We deal with physical, ecological and geographical data of remote sensing and physical survey sources in order to assess ecological processes, eco-epidemiological risk, biodiversity and landscape genetics.
Ecology and Eco-health research
Europe is increasingly at risk for new or re-emerging vector-borne diseases. A recent ECDC list includes Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, dengue, Chikungunya, tick-borne encephalitis, leishmaniasis, and hantavirus infections which are among the top ten vector-borne diseases with greatest potential to affect European citizens. The combination of socioeconomic factors together with agricultural reforms, increase in wildlife populations and changing weather conditions lead to changing disease patterns in Europe and elsewhere. The necessary assessment of health risks and the impact of diseases is greatly supported by spatial analysis. New sophisticated tools in Geographical Information Systems greatly support this highly specialized kind of analysis.
Our group explores high-resolution environmental and health data to produce health related risk maps. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) combine, in a structured way, health indicators (human cases, pathogen and vector observations, etc.) with ecological indicators (biotic and abiotic factors, etc.) for a better understanding of spatio-temporal patterns in disease transmission and diffusion. The use of remote sensing is the key to generate related indicators in complex terrain as found in the southern Alpine region.
European project Edenext (EU/FP7, 2011-2014)
Biology and control of vector-borne infections in Europe
Edenext is a research project bringing together 46 international partners dedicated to investigating the biological, ecological and epidemiological components of vector-borne disease introduction, emergence and spread, and the creation of new tools to control them. Due to environmental and socio-economic changes, vector-borne diseases (VBD) are becoming an increasing challenge for human and veterinary public health not only in Europe, but across the globe. Emerging infectious diseases (EID) are often detected in Europe and North America but also pose major risks for developing countries, where many factors favour the emergence of VBD and there are limited health facilities to prevent, monitor or control their spread. Therefore the work of EDENext is not only as a means of protecting and improving public health and the welfare of European citizens, but part of a coordinated international effort.
We participate in the Edenext project with a Sensorweb/GIS workpackage: http://www.edenext.eu
European project Eurowestnile (EU/FP7, 2011-2014)
EuroWestNile is a collaborative research project funded by the European Union (HEALTH.2010.2.3.3-3/2261391). It is dedicated to improve the knowledge on the biological, ecological and epidemiological factors affecting the West Nile virus activity in Europe and to provide innovative tools for its prevention and control. West Nile virus (WNV) is a virus transmitted between birds by mosquito bites. However it can cause occasionally neurological disease both in humans and equines. WNV is one of the most evident examples of emerging/re-emerging pathogens one can nominate, which is characterized by occasional virulent epizootic outbreaks. Despite intensive research done since its first appearance in the Americas in 1999, many aspects of its molecular biology, epidemiology, ecology, pathogenesis and life cycle are still poorly understood. Being a generalist pathogen par excellence, its eco-epidemiology is extraordinarily complex, involving hundreds of different vectors and hosts, which differ between locations. In addition, as other RNA viruses lacking proofreading replication, its genome is highly variable and consequently of extraordinary plasticity.
As a result, many WNV variants have evolved independently in different parts of the world. As the virus moves from one area to another, either by nature, through migrating birds, or by human influence (commerce and/or other activities), different WNV variants (lineages) from different origins can coexist and co-evolve in a particular area. This is the case in Europe, with at least five of seven WNV lineages identified to date. This situation is clearly different from that of North America. However, most studies on WNV currently come from the USA, biasing the knowledge available not only toward the virus there - a serious bias with important consequences influencing, for instance, diagnostic methods - but also to the WNV ecology in hosts and vectors.
We participate in the Eurowestnile project in the mathematical modelling/GIS work package: http://www.eurowestnile.org/
RasterVet project (2009-2012)
In the veterinary field geographic information systems (GIS) are widely used in a series of activities (i) the geographical representation of events or epidemiological data, (ii) the spatial analysis of cases of diseases, (iii) the studies on creation of risk maps and (iv) to support actions for the epidemiological surveillance and management of outbreaks. In this context, the sites of livestock are represented with a geographic data model that uses the point primitive to map geographic objects using the vector model to store and manage such data. In this data model the functions used are essentially proximity functions (distance, buffers, etc..), select operations (identification, search, selection and location attributes) and operations related to overlay (overlay, intersection, etc. .). The model described has, however, limititation associated to the use of points which, not being a surface, do not provide the real contextualization of the geographical site of interest.
The purpose of this research project is to introduce the analytical framework and operational veterinary use of other data models, mainly related to the use of digital raster structures. The raster structure is widely used in other production-type GIS, and may be used to introduce the analysis of surface proximity constraints that are typical of the farms.
GFOSS-TN3 project (2011-2012)
Development of Open Source GIS, especially GRASS GIS for the usage in the public administration.
Project with the Municipality of Trento, Italy
European project EDEN (EU/FP6, 2005-2010)
EDEN (Emerging Diseases in a changing European eNvironment) is an Integrated Project of the European Commission that aims to identify and catalogue those European ecosystems and environmental conditions which can influence the spatial and temporal distribution and dynamics of human pathogenic agents. The project develops and co-coordinates a set of generic methods, tools and skills such as predictive models, early warning and monitoring tools which can be used by decision makers for risk assessment, decision support for intervention and public health policies.
EDEN integrates research in 48 leading institutes from 24 countries. The eco-geographical diversity of the project area covers all relevant European eco-systems from the polar circle in the North to the Mediterranean basin and its link with West Africa in the South, and from Portugal in the West to the Danube delta in the East. EDEN is organised into a series of vertical Sub-Projects linked together by a series of Integrative Activities that include biodiversity monitoring, environmental change detection, disease modelling, remote sensing and image interpretation, information and communication.
SWISS-TIGER project (2012)
Topic: Assessing the potential distribution of Ae. albopictus in Switzerland. The maps produced show the current and future (2035 and 2060) potential distribution areas most favorable for Aedes albopictus (tiger mosquito).
Partner: Istituto cantonale di microbiologia, Repubblica e Cantone Ticino, CH
RISKTIGER project (2007-2010)
Aedes albopictus (Diptera: Culicidae) is an invasive species vector of at least 24 arboviroses (ARtropod-BOrne-Viruses - ARBO-viruses) and dirofilariasis, some of them of medical importance, as Dengue, Yellow fever, West Nile Virus, Chikungunya and other meningoencephalitis. From its native area in Southeast Asia, this species has spread worldwide, colonizing the Americas, Africa, Europe and Oceania in the last decades. Detected in Italy in 1990, Ae. albopictus has colonized more than ¾ of Italy in 15 years, producing annual expenses of around 15 million euros. This species has been reported to occur especially in the southern area of the Autonomous Province of Trento since 1997. In this project we assess the current spatial distribution, spreading and seasonal dynamics of Ae. albopictus in Trentino, evaluating the influence of climatic and ecological variables, and developing predictive models that optimized control strategies. Based in this data and in data from other populations, we currently determine the high risk areas for the potential establishment of this invasive species. With this data, we are producing predictive models on the possible future spread of this species and the risk of emergence of several human and veterinary diseases in Trentino.
We participated in the RISKTIGER (2007-2010) PAT project: Risk assesment of the emergence of new arboviruses diseases transmitted by the tiger mosquito Aedes albopictus (Diptera: Culicidae) in the Autonomous Province of Trento.
Biodiversity is of vital importance for the ecosystems productivity and capacity to provide services to the human populations inhabiting them. This proposal is intended to address major aspects of biodiversity research in relation to the provincial territory: (1) the study and conservation of endangered/endemic taxa (2) the direct consequences to the human population inhabiting this region consequent to biodiversity changes or loss may (3) the study of ecological and genetic mechanisms of adaptation to environmental stress (4) the measurement of the current levels of biodiversity to monitor, preserve, manage and exploit it in a sustainable way.We participate in the ACE-SAP biodiversity (2008-2011) PAT project with focus on landscape genetics.
Our unit actively partecipates in the development of Open Source GIS software in the OSGeo framework. We consider this approach to be perfectly in line with academic research due to the peer-review model applied to source code development. Open Source in general refers to software development method where the source code is maintained in a public repository with a group of developers, often volunteers, working on it. After peer-review of code style, functionality and quality, software packages are regularly released under commonly accepted software license which regulates the distribution terms ensuring free redistribution, permission of modifications and derived works. The aim is to receive quality software at lower costs which is flexible, interoperable and free of any vendor lock-in. Open Source GIS software packages which are used for the scientific work of the unit are developed following this philosophy. Interoperability and the use of industrial standards for data exchange is granted which facilitates data exchange with project partners.