High-resolution habitat suitability model for Phlebotomus pedifer, the vector of cutaneous leishmaniasis in southwestern Ethiopia

Myrthe Pareyn, Anneleen Rutten, Behailu Merdekios, Ronja E. M. Wedegartner, Nigatu Girma, Leo Regelbrugge, Simon Shibru, Herwig Leirs

Research output: Contribution to journalA1: Web of Science-articlepeer-review

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Background: Phlebotomus pediferis the vector forLeishmania aethiopicacausing cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL) in southwestern Ethiopia. Previous research on the transmission dynamics of CL resulted in recommendations for vector control. In order to target these interventions towards affected areas, a comprehensive understanding of the spatial distribution ofP. pediferat high spatial resolution is required. Therefore, this study determined the environmental predictors that facilitate the distribution ofP. pediferand created a map indicating the areas where conditions are suitable for survival of the vector in southwestern Ethiopia with high spatial resolution.

Methods: Phlebotomus pediferpresence points were collected during two entomological surveys. Climate, vegetation and topographic variables were assembled. Climate variables were interpolated with variables derived from high-resolution digital elevation models to generate topoclimatic layers representing the climate conditions in the highlands. A Maximum Entropy model was run with the presence points, predicting variables and background points, which were selected based on a bias file.

Results: Phlebotomus pediferwas the only capturedPhlebotomusspecies in the study area and was collected at altitudes ranging between 1685 and 2892 m. Model projections indicated areas with suitable conditions in a 'belt' surrounding the high mountain peaks. Model performance was high, with train and test AUC values being 0.93 and 0.90, respectively. A multivariate environmental similarity surface (MESS) analysis showed that the model projection was only slightly extrapolated for some of the variables. The mean annual temperature was the environmental variable, which contributed most to the model predictions (60.0%) followed by the seasonality in rainfall (13.2%). Variables representing steep slopes showed very low importance to model predictions.

Conclusions: Our findings indicate that the suitable habitats forP. pedifercorrespond well with the altitudes at which CL was reported previously, but the predictions are more widely distributed, in contrast with the description of CL to occur in particular foci. Moreover, we confirm that vector distribution is driven by climate factors, suggesting inclusion of topoclimate in sand fly distribution models. Overall, our model provides a map with a high spatial resolution that can be used to target sand fly control measures in southwestern Ethiopia.

Original languageEnglish
Article number467
JournalParasites and Vectors
Issue number1
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Species distribution modeling
  • Maximum entropy
  • Sand fly
  • Phlebotomus pedifer
  • Ethiopia
  • Topoclimate
  • Downscaling
  • Cutaneous leishmaniasis


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