Modelling and mapping tick dynamics using volunteered observations

Irene Garcia-Martí*, Raúl Zurita-Milla, Arnold J.H. van Vliet, Willem Takken

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Tick populations and tick-borne infections have steadily increased since the mid-1990s posing an ever-increasing risk to public health. Yet, modelling tick dynamics remains challenging because of the lack of data and knowledge on this complex phenomenon. Here we present an approach to model and map tick dynamics using volunteered data. This approach is illustrated with 9 years of data collected by a group of trained volunteers who sampled active questing ticks (AQT) on a monthly basis and for 15 locations in the Netherlands. We aimed at finding the main environmental drivers of AQT at multiple time-scales, and to devise daily AQT maps at the national level for 2014. Method: Tick dynamics is a complex ecological problem driven by biotic (e.g. pathogens, wildlife, humans) and abiotic (e.g. weather, landscape) factors. We enriched the volunteered AQT collection with six types of weather variables (aggregated at 11 temporal scales), three types of satellite-derived vegetation indices, land cover, and mast years. Then, we applied a feature engineering process to derive a set of 101 features to characterize the conditions that yielded a particular count of AQT on a date and location. To devise models predicting the AQT, we use a time-aware Random Forest regression method, which is suitable to find non-linear relationships in complex ecological problems, and provides an estimation of the most important features to predict the AQT. Results: We trained a model capable of fitting AQT with reduced statistical metrics. The multi-temporal study on the feature importance indicates that variables linked to water levels in the atmosphere (i.e. evapotranspiration, relative humidity) consistently showed a higher explanatory power than previous works using temperature. As a product of this study, we are able of mapping daily tick dynamics at the national level. Conclusions: This study paves the way towards the design of new applications in the fields of environmental research, nature management, and public health. It also illustrates how Citizen Science initiatives produce geospatial data collections that can support scientific analysis, thus enabling the monitoring of complex environmental phenomena.
Original languageEnglish
Article number41
JournalInternational Journal of Health Geographics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2017


  • Data analysis
  • Environmental modelling
  • Random forest
  • Tick dynamics
  • Volunteered geographic information (VGI)


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