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Assessing ecological suitability for the spread of Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus in West Africa (TICKRISK)

Research project SR/00/144 (Research action SR)

Persons :

  • Dr.  VANWAMBEKE Sophie - Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)
    Coordinator of the project
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/4/2011-30/6/2012

Description :

Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus is the most important tick pest of cattle worldwide, and a major disease vector. R. microplus was not recorded in West Africa until 2007 when it was encountered in Ivory Coast during a local survey of cattle ticks (Madder et al., 2007) and more recently in Benin (Madder, unpublished results). The route of invasion is not known but is probably related to the importation of cattle, the principal host for this tick species. A useful way to investigate the places where an organism could thrive is to identify its ecological niche. The ecological niche delineates the set of conditions under which species can maintain populations in the long-term (Estrada-Peña et al., 2006; Estrada-Peña, 2008), and hence also successfully invade and establish in new areas. The niche and habitat suitability of ticks are heavily influenced by climatic factors such as temperature and humidity. These climatic factors are efficiently described using a diversity of remotely sensed (RS) variables. Surveillance is a cornerstone of protection of animals against invasive pests and pathogens.TImely transfer of data collected in the field is also key. The use of smart phones and data collector applications will be investigated in the frame of Tickrisk while collecting field data for model calibration. Smart phones allow the easy and efficient collection and transmission of a range of valuable information from the field to the laboratory and the use in models.


Three types of data will be used in the ecological niche modelling method MAXENT and GIS. A preliminary model based on South American records of tick occurrence and environmental data extracted from MODIS will be calibrated and subsequently applied to the study area. Tick occurrence data will be collected on the field over the course of four field missions, based on the preliminary model adapted to Africa. Field work will be carried out in collaboration with local veterinarians and by using smart phones to collect and centralise data. Customized data collection software will be used. Environmental determinants will be extracted from MODIS, and complementary data sources will be assessed (e.g. precipitation and soil moisture data). MAXENT will be used again to calibrate a second model based on African data. Cattle distribution will be extracted from the FAO Gridded Livestock Database and overlaid with the model result to identify areas at risk based on cattle distribution.


Tickrisk will pursue the production of habitat suitability maps for R. microplus in West Africa based on the niche suitability map and cattle distribution. It will also pursue the development of the use of smartphones for collection of field data to be used by researchers in calibrating and improving models but also for incorporation in web mapping tools potentially used by stakeholders as well as researchers. Specifically the project will work towards the production of a preliminary map of habitat suitability for R. microplus, the collection of field data using smartphones, the production of a calibrated map of habitat suitability for R. microplus in West Africa, and the investigation of smartphones and web mapping applications for spatial information diffusion and access. Working towards these objectives will advance the use of remotely sensed MODIS data in animal health management, and particularly animal pest control (such, as in the case of the project, the invading tick species R. microplus), which is of major economic importance throughout the world and in developing countries in particular. It will also incorporate data collected in the field using modern devices that would greatly enhance the data collection capacity, its interactivity and ease and speed of transfer.

Documentation :

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