Digitizing collections to trace parasite-host associations and predict the spread of vector-borne disease

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Digitizing collections to trace parasite-host associations and predict the spread of vector-borne disease

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Project Summary

Arthropod parasites (specifically, insects and their relatives) are responsible for economically critical issues in human health, wildlife conservation, and livestock productivity. Because natural history collections are permanent repositories for past and present parasite specimens, these collections and their data can help address these significant societal challenges in human and animal health and safety. Natural history collections often contain specimens and ancillary materials that are completely unknown to the broader community, yet represent irreplaceable knowledge about organismal habitats, distributions, and parasite-host associations. Further, these collections yield information that can be used to model ecological processes and changes in species distributions, predict the future spread of human and animal disease, update taxonomy, and help identify under-represented parasite groups in urgent need of sampling and threatened parasite diversity in need of conservation. This project will provide digital records (i.e., specimen label data and images) of invaluable arthropod parasite collections to make research-ready baseline data accessible online, catalyzing new research and education initiatives. These newly digitized data will have immediate and long-lasting benefits for our understanding of organismal associations, biodiversity, and beyond.

The Terrestrial Parasite Tracker Thematic Collection Network (TPT-TCN) will digitize over one million arthropod specimens representing species that are significant parasites and disease vectors of vertebrates in the United States. This digitization effort will integrate millions of vertebrate host records with vector and disease monitoring data shared by state and federal agency collaborators, creating a novel foundation for integrative, long-term research. This project is a collaboration of taxonomists and curators from vertebrate and invertebrate collections, as well as epidemiologists, ecologists, data-scientists, and biodiversity informatics specialists. This reach is further extended by the 26 collaborating research collections and other initiatives. This project will empower ongoing citizen science and public awareness campaigns with the tools to understand distribution changes of arthropod vectors and associated diseases due to environmental change and global movement. Public education initiatives include partnering with natural history museums to educate the public about parasites via science-focused lectures, exhibits, summer youth programs, informal presentations, and developing new online educational resources for teachers in underserved communities. All specimen images generated by this project will be used for the development of a rapid identification tool for parasites which will be made accessible through the internet and smartphone apps and shared with iDigBio (idigbio.org). The TPT-TCN will also develop and implement undergraduate teaching modules focused on data held in natural history collections. These modules will be disseminated to academic institutions across the United States and made available online.

Current Research

Project Websites & Social Media

Parasite Tracker Website

Citizen Science & Outreach Projects

Project Leadership

Project Sponsor: Purdue University (NSF Award 1901932)

Principal Investigators (PIs): Stephen Cameron (PI), Jennifer Zaspel (co-PI)

Project Collaborators

Digitizing Institutions

Academy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia

Jason Weckstein, Academy of Natural Sciences Philadelphia, (NSF Award #1901935)

Purdue University

Stephen Cameron, Purdue University, (NSF Award #1901932)
Jennifer Zaspel, co-PI, Milwaukee Public Museum

University of California-Santa Barbara

Katja Seltmann, University of California-Santa Barbara, (NSF Award #1901926)

Texas A&M AgriLife Research

Jessica Light, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, (NSF Award #1901916)
John Oswald, co-PI

Field Museum of Natural History

Petra Sierwald, Field Museum of Natural History, (NSF Award #1901857)
John Bates, co-PI, Field Museum of Natural History

University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Scott Gardner, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, (NSF Award #1901911)

University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Robin Thomson, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, (NSF Award #1901915)
Ralph Holzenthal, co-PI, University of Minnesota

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Daniel Young, University of Wisconsin-Madison, (NSF Award #1902070)

Board of Regents, NSHE, obo University of Nevada, Reno

Julia Allen, Board of Regents, NSHE, obo University of Nevada, Reno, (NSF Award #1902031)
Robert Guralnick, co-PI, University of Florida

University of Hawaii

Daniel Rubinoff, University of Hawaii, (NSF Award #1901931)

University of Utah

Sarah Bush, University of Utah, (NSF Award #1901923)

California Academy of Sciences

Michelle Trautwein, California Academy of Sciences, (NSF Award #1901917)

Michigan State University

Anthony Cognato, Michigan State University, (NSF Award #1901958)

Bernice P Bishop Museum

James Boone, Bernice P Bishop Museum, (NSF Award #1901928)
Neal Evenhuis, co-PI, Bernice P Bishop Museum

University of New Mexico

Joseph Cook, University of New Mexico, (NSF Award #1901920)
Mariel Campbell, co-PI, University of New Mexico

University of Michigan Ann Arbor

Erika Tucker, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, (NSF Award #1902113)
Barry OConnor, co-PI, University of Michigan

Brigham Young University

Michael Whiting, Brigham Young University, (NSF Award #1902048)

Protocols & Workflows


Professional Presentations

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