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Satellite images to combat avian flu

By [email protected] - 20th June 2011 - 16:17

It is not only domestic poultry but also wild waterbirds that play a significant role in the spread of the avian influenza variant H5N1. With the aid of satellite data, it is possible to create risk maps for the spread of the virus by wild waterbirds. This has been shown in research by Yali Si, who obtained her doctoral degree from the ITC faculty of the University of Twente on 16 June.
A worldwide outbreak of the deadly avian flu variant H5N1 began in 2003. In studying the spread of the disease, the main focus has been on the transmission of the virus by domestic poultry. Yali Siâs research has shown, however, that wild waterbirds also play a significant role in spreading the virus. Her research has revealed a strong correlation between the outbreak of the virus and the migration patterns of migratory waterbirds, over short as well as long distances.  Satellite imagesIn order to anticipate future outbreaks, it is important to be able to predict the sites at which wild waterbirds are likely to settle. Currently, there is only a very vague idea of how waterbirds migrate. Yali Si has, therefore, used field tests and satellite images to investigate which grasslands are more likely to attract wild waterbirds to feed. Her research showed that the quality of the grasslands plays an important part in determining whether the wild waterbirds will settle. The grass should not, for example, be too long or too old, as this makes grazing difficult and reduces the relative amount of nitrogen.  Risk mapsSatellite data can be used to create risk maps, which can then show the most popular areas for wild waterbirds and thus indicate where the risk of the spread of the avian flu virus is greatest. Yali Si demonstrated that this is a feasible method, but states that more research is needed to refine the methodology and the resulting risk maps.  Yali Si conducted her research under the supervision of Professor Andrew Skidmore, Professor Herbert Prins and Dr Tiejun Wang, in the Biodiversity in Fragmenting Landscape research group at the ITC faculty (Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation). The research was supported by the China Scholarship Council.

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