Previous studies also have looked for links between satellite images and deer mouse populations, but they used less trapping data and collected it in a single trapping season. The mice in the new study were caught during six trapping seasons in the spring and fall over three years, revealing how the population changed over time.
The study also used several different methods for estimating the amount of fresh vegetation in an area from satellite images, and a goal of the research was to see which measures are the best predictors of mouse populations. Health officials can use such information to see where hantavirus outbreaks are likely to occur.
"The point of this whole exercise is to develop disease-risk maps, which would show the distribution of infected hosts in this case, deer mice overlaid with human population density," explains Thomas Cova, an author of the study and associate professor of geography at the University of Utah.
"Although the focus of this work is hantavirus in deer mice, it contributes to our broader understanding of how to monitor the spread of infectious diseases from space, which in the long run could save lives," he adds.
Catching Sick Mice
The study was conducted at the University of Utah by Lina Cao, a graduate student in geography, and Philip Dennison, an associate professor of geography, as well as Dearing and Cova. The field data came from an ongoing mouse-trapping project funded by the University of Utah and the National Science Foundation.
Twice a year for the past nine years, scientists from Dearing's lab have traveled to Juab County, Utah to trap deer mice. During each trapping season, they set up 1,728 traps for three consecutive nights; tag each mouse's ear so they can identify mice that are recaptured; record their sex, weight and condition; and draw blo
|Contact: Lee J. Siegel|
University of Utah