Diversity and Disease in a Post-Trauma Urban Landscape

This interdisciplinary research project will focus on ecological and socioeconomic processes following the catastrophic flooding in New Orleans associated with Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. Urban landscapes are excellent settings within which to examine interactions ecological and human communities. Urban areas that have experienced a traumatic event can be highly tractable systems for studying potential parallels between ecological and socioeconomic systems as well as feedbacks among them. With acute trauma resulting in an initial state change, the assembly and reassembly of proximate or coincident urban ecological and human communities can be a coupled dynamic, where outcomes are contingent on responses to common forcing factors or interactions arising from management interventions. The catastrophic flooding of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina resulted in a natural laboratory for investigating assembly and reassembly of coupled natural and human systems. The investigators will determine the extent to which ecological and socioeconomic diversity exhibited parallel responses to Katrina-related flooding. They also will examine how interventions executed as public health measures shaped relationships and interactions between ecological and socioeconomic diversity. They will conduct geographic information system-based analyses of landscape heterogeneity and socioeconomic variation before and after Hurricane Katrina as well as plot-based inventories of post-Katrina plant communities while accounting for flooding and socioeconomic stratification. They will examine the ecology and demography of Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus), a habitat-dependent primary reservoir of zoonotic pathogens, in order to understand human health outcomes of flooding. This facet of the research will involve a trap-based census; population genetic analysis of abundance and dispersal, and histological analysis of pathogen prevalence. Mail surveys and in-person interviews of households proximate to plant inventory and trapping sites as well as households in four neighborhoods having different income and ethnicity characteristics will be administered to determine how perceptions of risk compare to physical measures of exposure risk across the city. Information gained from these studies will be integrated into a spatially explicit predictive model of Norway rat demography to assess ecological and human-health outcomes of alternative control scenarios reflecting habitat suitability, movement, and risk perceptions.

Lead Investigator: 
New Orleans