August 2014

On Monday, August 11th, at ESA's 99th Annual Meeting, taking place this year in Sacramento, California, Dr. Pascual was honored at an awards ceremony for her outstanding contributions and lifelong committment to ecology. More specifically, Dr. Pascual was recognized for her significant research related to the theory of food web structure, the ecology, spread and evolution of infectious diseases, and the development and application of novel computational methods for relating climate to disease. The Ecological Society of America's press release also states that, "throughout her career, Pascual also has devoted enormous energy to fostering diversity of ecological researchers in the US and mentoring junior researchers worldwide."

For these reasons, ESA has honored, along with the University of Michigan, Dr. Pascual with the Robert T. MacArthur Award. Our lab is proud to call her our own.

More information is available directly on ESA's and EEB's websites.



March 2014

Recently, a paper published in Science, co-authored by Amir Siraj, Mauricio Santos-Vega, Menno J. Bouma, D. Yadeta, D. Ruiz Carrascal, and Mercedes Pascual, entitled, Altitudinal Changes in Malaria Incidence in Highlands of Ethiopia and Colombia, has drawn local, national, and international news attention. Their research suggests that warmer temperatures cause malaria to spread to higher altitudes.

Malaria parasites - infecting red blood cells

Science Reporter, Rebecca Morelle, explains more in her BBC News article, Malaria Spreading to New Altitudes. She discusses the co-authors' resent research that indicates that even areas at higher altitudes, which have traditionally provided havens from malaria, are now at risk for the spread of malaria. The research focuses on people living in the highlands of Africa and South America and their increased risk of catching the mosquito-borne disease during hotter years. Morelle says, "In Ethiopia, where nearly half of the population live at an altitude of between 1,600m (5,250ft) and 2,400m, the scientists believe there could be many more cases".

We have estimated that, based on the distribution of malaria with altitude, a 1C rise in temperature could lead to an additional three million cases in under-15-year-olds per year. - Dr. Pascual.

Listen to this Science Podcast featuring an interview with Dr. Pascual.

More press on the paper can be seen below...


  • In Time, Bryan Walsh describes the deadly disease of malaria so that readers understand the significance of Dr. Pascual and her team's research. Malaria is debilitating. "Malaria is one of the most common—and deadly—infectious diseases in the world, sickening more than 300 million people a year and killing over 600,000 people." Walsh also discusses the mosquito's role in spreading the disease.


  • Newsweek's Rob Verger also emphasizes the impact that malaria has on populations. He says, "Malaria is a disease that claimed 627,000 lives globally in 2012, and got 200 million people sick." He tells the story of a pediatric infectious disease expert and epidemiologist who contracted the disease after returning home from Zambia in 1998. The expert suffered chills, fever, and other symptoms and was able to recover in a hospital; however, there are many who are not as fortunate to have such resources. Verger explores the question of whether or not people living in higher elevations will be more at risk of contracting malaria.


  • mosquito In's article, As Temperatures Rise, Malaria Will Invade Higher Elevations, Rachel Nuwer mentions that the Anopheles mosquitoes that carry the malaria parasite can only live in warm environments. Nuwer also quotes one of the co-authors and clinical lecturer at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Dr. Menno Bouma, in this way: "Our latest research suggests that with progressive global warming, malaria will creep up the mountains and spread to new high-altitude areas. And because these populations lack protective immunity, they will be particularly vulnerable to severe morbidity and mortality."

    Check out these media links too:


Weather Channel (includes a video)

University of Michigan, Michigan News

Climate Wire



  • The Times of India highlights the fact that "the median, or midpoint, of malaria cases shifted to highter elevations in years that were warmer and dropped to lower elevations in cooler years." Mercedes Pascual says that this is concrete evidence of a climate effect. She says that the latest findings of her research and the research of her co-authors "underscore the size of the problem and emphasize the need for sustained intervention efforts in these regions, especially in Africa."


  • As noted by Business Standard, the research team's recent research, "based on an analysis of records from highland regions of Ethiopia and Columbia, suggests that future climate warming will result in a significant increase in malaria cases in densely populated regions of Africa and South America, unless disease monitoring and control efforts are boosted and sustained."


  • The Indian Express mentions that by honing in only on "the altitudinal response to year-to-year temperature changes, [Pascual and her co-authors] were able to exclude other variables that can influence malaria case numbers, such as mosquito-control programmes, resistance to anti-malarial drugs and fluctuations in rainfall amounts."


Read these articles too:

Channel NewsAsia


Long-lasting Transition Toward Sustainable Elimination of Desert Malaria Under Irrigation Development (Download PDF)

August 2013

A recent paper by Andres Baeza and his collegues: Menno J. Bouma, Ramesh C. Dhiman, Edward B. Baskerville, Pietro Ceccato, Rajpal Singh Yadav, and Mercedes Pascual, has received much attention from the media.

In arid areas, people living in the proximity of irrigation infrastructure are potentially exposed to a higher risk of malaria due to changes in ecohydrological conditions that lead to increased vector abundance. However, irrigation provides a pathway to economic prosperity that, over longer time scales, is expected to counteract these negative effects. A better understanding of this transition between increased malaria risk and regional elimination... (Read More)

To learn more about more about Andres and his co-authors' research on irrigation and malaria in northwest India, check out these media sources: ANI NewsYahoo News IndiaMedIndia, Business Standard, Think India Foundation and News Medical.


Climate modeling helps to predict malaria epidemics

March 2013

Substantial attention has been given to the recent publication, Malaria Epidemics and the Influence of the Tropical South Atlantic on the Indian Monsoon, by Mercedes Pascual and her collegues: Benjamin Cash, Xavier Rodo, J. Ballester, Andres Baeza, Menno Bouma and Ramesh Dhiman. Their newest collaboration has given birth to significant research as shown in their work published in Nature Climate Change. Mercedes and her colleagues have developed a model that allows malaria epidemics in arid northwest India to be predicted four months in advance, helping authorities prepare for them much earlier than before.

Check out media coverage in Reuters, The Chinia Post, Livemint & The Wall Street Journal, and NY Daily News.

Ocean Temperatures Give Early Warning of Indian Malaria

"One main motivation to look at the oceans and not at regional rainfall itself is to take advantage of a longer lead time," Pascual says.


Warming Climate Boosts Malaria in Kenya

In their most recent collaboration, "Epidemic malaria and warmer temperatures in recent decades in an East African highland," published by the Proceedings of the Royal Socieity B scientific journal, HHMI investigator Mercedes Pascual and her colleagues, David Alonso and Menno J. Bouma, examined the relationship between warming and malaria in the highlands of Kenya.

Anopheles MosquitePhoto: Kedar Bhide

"When you go up in altitude, temperature decreases," Pascual says. "We know that climate may be playing a limiting role [in the spread of malaria]."

Pascual's approach to problems such as these is to build a mathematical model. Her models are already changing the way scientists think about how climate variability influences the dynamics of infectious diseases. One of the long-term goals of her research is to build computational tools that will help scientists identify when epidemics will occur, thereby enabling them to alert public health agencies. Those agencies, in turn, would be in a better position to implement prevention measures and meet the increased demand for lifesaving medicine and supplies when an epidemic occurs. (Read more)


Google PageRank inspired coextinction research

Google Food Web picture

Former postdoctoral fellow Stefano Allesina and Professor Mercedes Pascual created an algorithm inspired by Google’s PageRank, which rates Web pages based on pages that link to them. They applied their algorithm to a different kind of web – food webs. Their research was published in the online journal PLoS Computational Biology in September 2009.

The algorithm uses the links between species in a food web, which describes the complex eating relationships between species, to determine the relative importance of various species. Their research forms the basis for a more comprehensive treatment of extinction risk in ecosystems. Allesina just moved from a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Center for Ecological Synthesis, University of California at Santa Barbara, to an assistant professorship at the University of Chicago. Prior to that, he was a postdoctoral fellow in Pascual's lab. See New York Times and BBC articles.


Food-web Theme Issue Editor

Food WebProfessor Mercedes Pascual was among four scientists who compiled and edited papers for a theme issue of the June 27, 2009 journal, Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B, titled, "Food-web assembly and collapse: mathematical models and implications for conservation."


Better Than Tea Leaves

The May 2009 HHMI Bulletin features Professor Mercedes Pascual and her mathematical models that consider climate change, disease agents and human immunity. (read)