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

Context and objectives

The project focussed on Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus, a pest of cattle worldwide, which has huge economic impacts where it occurs. This tick was recently imported from Latin America into a few West African countries, and threatens to invade large parts of the region. In the West African resource-limited context, there is a need for effective and focused control strategies. This requires maps of the current and potential distribution of R. microplus.

At the onset of TICKRISK, although there was no doubt on the presence of R. microplus in Benin, the extent of its distribution was not known. It was unexpected to find it so far up north as the provinces of Donga and Borgou. Judging by the abundance observed in various places throughout the affected area, R. microplus has settled well. Carrying out an extensive survey of the distribution of R. microplus is a major achievement of the project, that has had immediate use and purpose for local public authorities responsible for livestock. R. microplus constitues a severe and very immediate problem for local livestock herders.

Project outcome

Building the model that produces the habitat suitability map entailed numerous exploratory tests, that compared various data sources and various modelling methods. Data sources included remotely sensed data drawn from MODIS, but also weather-station based modelled climatic data representing long term climatic spatial trends. These turned out to perform better in the models, probably because they represent general trends measured over decades, while satellite data may be more subject to inter annual variations. Also, WorldClim data have been processed to represent biologically meaningful variables. The field data was collected using smart phones and epidemiological or vector data collection apps. These devices were used by the researchers themselves as well as the local agents, a number of them received training for the use of smart phones for data collection as well as tools for tick identification. While the collection of data using smartphones was met with enthusiasm locally and the field collection was a success, a number of obstacles, technical (e.g. network signal) and human (time, ease with technology) remain. Clearly, these technologies hold great potential for stakeholders to take part in the collection of scientific data as well as for disease or vector surveillance, but the spontaneity with their use will need to be expanded. The next step would be to use them for alerts or information diffusion.