Landscape dynamics of a vector-borne disease in the western US: How vector–habitat relationships inform disease hotspots

TitleLandscape dynamics of a vector-borne disease in the western US: How vector–habitat relationships inform disease hotspots
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsElias EH, Savoy HM, Swanson DA, Cohnstaedt LW, Peters DPC, Derner J.D, Pelzel-McCluskey A, Drolet B, Rodriguez L
ARIS Log Number386197
Keywordslivestock, nidus, patch analysis, Vector-borne disease, vesicular stomatitis virus

Vesicular stomatitis (VS) is a vector-borne viral disease that causes lesions in livestock, premises, county and state quarantines, and important economic losses. We investigated vector–habitat characteristics for vectors associated with VS in regions of recurrent disease within the western United States (US) that consistently lead to the environment where vector, host, and pathogen populations intersect to enable pathogen transmission. We analyzed the habitats of previously identified insect vectors, including black flies (BFs) (Simulium vittatum complex), biting midges (BMs) (Culicoides variipennis complex, which includes Culicoides sonorensis), and sand flies (SFs) (Lutzomyia shannoni) in six regions of interest (ROIs) containing hotspots of VS ranging from Texas (TX) to Wyoming. This analysis broadened the understanding of (1) how regions of reoccurring VS differ from the broader western US, (2) how geographically separated regions and hotspots are similar across time, and (3) how vector–environment habitat a priori knowledge relates to observed hotspots. Analysis of watershed factors (livestock densities, land-cover proportions, stream and lake densities, and irrigation methods) indicated a complex system separating areas with high, recurring VS from the broader western US. Although no single characteristic separated the six ROIs from other areas, we found two distinct emerging groups (northern ROI and TX). Hotspots, estimated from monthly VS concentrations, evolved northward throughout the year and most hotspots were closer to flowing water and agricultural land than the broader ROI. All ROIs contained environmental conditions suitable for multiple vectors at some point in the year, but BFs had the highest suitability scores, whereas BM scores were lower and varied annually with higher suitability in summer. SFs had the lowest suitability score in all ROIs, consistent with their low likelihood of being vectors. BM habitat patches were often orders of magnitude smaller than BF patches, and hotspot patches reinforce the likelihood that BF may be the most critical vector in northern ROI, whereas both BM and BF have similar likelihood in southern ROI. Given limited existing vector data, this analysis provides an alternate pathway for using habitat information to associate likely vectors responsible for transmission. Results could support early warning and mitigation efforts to reduce the incidence of VS.