Skip to content

Debra Peters, USDA 

Big data-model integration as a multi-scale approach to predicting the spread of vector-borne diseases: an end-to-end vision and operational framework



Geospatial data are increasingly providing opportunities for application to a predictive disease ecology paradigm provided the data can be synthesized and harmonized with fine-scale, highly-resolved data on vector and host responses to their environment. Here, we provide a vision for this multi-scale, integrated approach, and illustrate its utility in understanding and predicting the spread of vesicular stomatitis (VS), a common viral vector-borne vesicular disease affecting livestock throughout the Americas. Our results from two outbreaks (2004-05, 2014-15) show that VS occurrence at a local scale was related to conditions that can be monitored (rainfall, temperatures, streamflow) or modified (vegetation). At landscape to regional scales, conditions that favor different insect vectors were indicated, either black flies in incursion years or biting midges in expansion years. The recent 2019-2020 outbreak with a different viral serotype provided new challenges to prediction capabilities. Application of this approach to other diseases or to VS predictions is limited by data availability on biotic processes across scales and skilled personnel needed to conduct spatio-temporal machine or deep learning analyses and process-based modeling. 


Dr. Peters, an ecologist for the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service’s (USDA-ARS) Jornada Experimental Range and lead principal investigator for the Jornada Basin Long Term Ecological Research program in Las Cruces, New Mexico, has served on the editorial boards of ESA’s journals Ecological Applications, Ecology, and Ecological Monographs. She chaired the Society’s Rangeland Ecology Section, was a founding member and chair of the Southwest Chapter, and has served as member-at-large on the Governing Board. As program chair for the 98th Annual Meeting of the Society, she inaugurated the wildly popular Ignite talks, which give speakers the opportunity to present conceptual talks that do not fit into the standard research presentation format.

Dr. Peters has greatly contributed to the broader research enterprise as senior advisor to the chief scientist at the USDA, and as a member of the National Ecological Observatory Network’s (NEON) Board of Directors. She has provided this quite amazing array of services in support of the Society and her profession while maintaining an outstanding level of research productivity and scientific leadership in landscape-level, cross-scale ecosystem ecology. Many of her more than 100 research publications have been cited more than 100 times. Her fine record of research led to her election as a Fellow of ESA and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.