EPA and the Smithsonian: Partnering in a Land Use and Biodiversity Study

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In March 2007, an agency-wide Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Smithsonian Institution (SI) was signed, recognizing a shared interest in collaborating to promote intellectual exchange and the advancement of education and outreach on a wide range of scientific topics.

One of the areas in which we have been working in partnership with the Smithsonian is in studying the relationship between land use, biodiversity, and human health. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute’s (STRI) network of tropical forest plots is being developed into a system of Smithsonian Institution Global Earth Observatories (SIGEO), which has and will continue to provide critical scientific data about how tree biomass and biodiversity are responding and adapting to increases in atmospheric CO2 and global warming. In addition to modeling the global carbon budget, we recognized that SIGEO serves as an excellent platform to explore the dynamics and mechanisms underlying the relationship between anthropogenic stressors, changes in biodiversity, and disease transmission to humans because the sites have been so well characterized ecologically. EPA and STRI are working together to inventory and monitor important animal groups such as vertebrates and arthropods that can play important roles in human disease transmission.

Why is this a timely research opportunity? Mosquitoes are medically the most important group of Diptera, both in the numbers of disease agents they transmit and the magnitude of health problems these diseases cause worldwide, and climate change is predicted to expand vector range and exacerbate disease.

Our collaboration will use appropriate temperate and tropical plots that are part of the SIGEO network to assess the status and trends of mosquito species populations over time and evaluate whether infectious disease transmission risk is being altered in response to changes in climate and surrounding land-use. CDC has also joined as a partner to evaluate collected mosquitoes for the presence of arboviruses of public health importance and identification of the vector species they are utilizing in distinct habitats. Comparison of the findings from this study with an ongoing CDC study of arbovirus presence in nearby Guatemala will provide a better estimate of the risk of human and animal epidemics due to movement of zoonotic arboviruses throughout Central America. Mosquito monitoring will also add new information to Smithsonian’s MosquitoMap, a new web-based, geospatially referenced clearinghouse for mosquito species collection records and distribution models.

EPA is working with STRI, CDC, Smithsonian Museum Support Center, and the Gorgas Memorial Lab in Panama.

For more information on EPA’s Biodiversity and Human Health activities, see:

About the author: Montira Pongsiri, PhD, MPH, is an Environmental Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of the Science Advisor.