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10 Years of Environmental Change on the Slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and Its Associated Shift in Malaria Vector Distributions


10 Years of Environmental Change on the Slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro and Its Associated Shift in Malaria Vector Distributions

Manisha A Kulkarni et al. Front Public Health.


Introduction: Malaria prevalence has declined in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania over the past 10 years, particularly at lower altitudes. While this decline has been related to the scale-up of long-lasting insecticidal nets to achieve universal coverage targets, it has also been attributed to changes in environmental factors that are important for enabling and sustaining malaria transmission.

Objectives: Herein, we apply spatial analytical approaches to investigate the impact of environmental and demographic changes, including changes in temperature, precipitation, land cover, and population density, on the range of the major malaria vector species Anopheles arabiensis in two districts of Tanzania, situated on the southern slope of Mount Kilimanjaro. These models are used to identify environmental changes that have occurred over a 10-year period and highlight the implications for malaria transmission in this highland region.

Methods: Entomological data were collected from the Hai and Lower Moshi districts of Tanzania in 2001-2004 and 2014-2015. Vector occurrence data were applied alongside satellite remote sensing indices of climate and land cover, and gridded population data, to develop species distribution models for An. arabiensis for the 2004 and 2014 periods using maximum entropy. Models were compared to assess the relative contribution of different environmental and demographic factors to observed trends in vector species distribution in lowland and highland areas.

Results: Changes in land cover were observed in addition to increased population densities, increased warm season temperature, and decreased wetness at low altitudes. The predicted area and extent of suitable habitat for An. arabiensis declined across the study area over the 10-year period, with notable contraction at lower altitudes, while species range in higher altitude zones expanded. Importantly, deforestation and warmer temperatures at higher altitudes may have created stable areas of suitable vector habitat in the highlands capable of sustaining malaria transmission.

Conclusion: We show that environmental changes have had an important influence on the distribution of malaria vector species in a highland area of northern Tanzania. Highland areas may be at continued risk for sporadic malaria outbreaks despite the overall range contraction of principal vector species at lower altitudes, where malaria transmission remains at low intensity.

Keywords: Anopheles arabiensis; Maxent; Tanzania; ecological niche modeling; environmental change; geographic information systems; highland malaria; vector-borne diseases.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Map of study area in the Hai and Moshi districts of Tanzania showing elevation zones.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Response curves for Maxent models in (A) 2004 and (B) 2014 showing the dependence of predicted suitability for Anopheles arabiensis occurrence on the selected variable accounting for dependencies induced by correlations with other variables. Wet season NDVI (avgndvi_wet), wet season EVI (avgevi_wet), mean temperature of the warmest month (avgt_hot), mean temperature of the coldest month (avgt_cool), elevation (elev), human population density (humpop). NDVI, normalized differential vegetation index; EVI, enhanced vegetation index.
Figure 3
Figure 3
Predicted distribution of Anopheles arabiensis in (A) 2004, (B) 2014, and (C) change showing areas of overlap, loss, and gain.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Maps of environmental factors (A) TH, (B) TC, (C) NDVIW, (D) NDVID, and (E) human population density in the study area in 2004 (left column) and 2014 (right column).

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