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Insect-borne disease warning system, environmental news reporting part of IU Grand Challenge

Sep 21, 2018

With funding from Indiana University’s Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge initiative, IU launched the Environmental Resilience Institute in 2017.

Since then, the institute has been facilitating collaborations between scientists, local officials, businesses, nonprofits and community leaders to develop accurate predictions, feasible solutions and effective communications to make sure the state is ready for the impacts of environmental change.


Accurate predictions rely on our knowledge of how the environment is changing throughout the state. The Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment is providing key knowledge, with significant contributions from the Environmental Resilience Institute, along with scientists from Purdue University, the University of Notre Dame and others.

The institute led three of five reports released as of August 2018 and provided a team of researchers who contributed data analysis to the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment’s main report, “Indiana’s Past and Future Climate.” Data are available at the county level to meet growing needs of local decision-makers.

Institute researchers also lead Project Vector Shield, which is developing an early-warning system that will map the presence of insects that spread human diseases, such as Zika virus and Lyme disease. Collecting ticks and mosquitoes at 20 sites in southern Indiana, an Environmental Resilience Institute team then tests the samples for pathogens. Data generated by Project Vector Shield’s surveillance and analyses will be available through the institute’s website.

Earlier this month, the institute also released the Environmental Resilience Institute Toolkit, an online resource center intended to help municipalities and counties prepare for environmental change.

The Greening the Pleasant Run Waterway project involves institute researchers studying 30 urban greenspace locations across Indianapolis to measure the impact of native plants on the diversity and abundance of birds and invertebrates. This multifaceted project also includes an analysis of how the reintroduction of native plants in urban areas affects the health of migrating birds.

The research is taking place in areas where institute partner Keep Indianapolis Beautiful has removed invasive greenery and planted native flowers, trees and shrubs. The results will inform recommendations for reducing the impact of human development on wildlife.

Description of the following video:

[Music plays]

[Video: Ticks crawling on a person’s sock.]

[Words appear: Vector-borne diseases like dengue, Zika, Lyme and plague are on the rise.]

[Video: Ticks crawling around on a table.]

[Words appear: Infected ticks, mosquitoes and fleas spread the diseases.]

[Video: An infographic featuring disease cases from ticks across the United States.]

[Words appear: Researchers from Indiana University are working to protect Hoosiers.]

[Video: Ticks crawling around on a table.]

[Words appear: IU’s Project Vector Shield will collect ticks and mosquitoes in Indiana …]

[Video: Mosquitoes buzzing on a screen.]

[Words appear: and analyze them to see if they carry dangerous diseases.]

[Video: Hands wearing gloves looking at a microscope, moving to a close-up image of a tick.]

[Words appear: The project has already found increased numbers of black-legged ticks – which carry Lyme disease – in southern Indiana.]

[Video: Ticks crawling around on a table.]

[Words appear: Researchers will analyze ticks and mosquitoes for species that previously did not occur in Indiana and provide an early-warning system so people can take appropriate precautions.]

[Words appear: Project Vector Shield is part of IU’s Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge.]

[Video: Tick crawling on a boot.]

[Words appear: Learn more at]

[Video: The Indiana University trident appears]

[Words appear: Indiana University]

[Words appear: Fulfilling the Promise]

[Words appear:]



To complement its data-driven predictions, the Environmental Resilience Institute is focusing on feasible solutions that state and local decision-makers can implement to prepare for environmental changes, many of which are already happening. So far, the institute has held 25 meetings across Indiana with mayors, county commissioners and local government staff to learn what they are already doing to prepare and what tools and information they need to solve existing and imminent problems.

The Urban Green Infrastructure Analysis Project brings together several datasets in a pilot project to help two communities understand how green infrastructure promotes resilience. Green infrastructure is the installation of vegetation to manage stormwater, which in turn helps with flood protection, cleaner air, cleaner water, increased habitat and biodiversity, and urban heat management.

The project will yield an interactive, online map that allows visitors to explore types of green infrastructure, socioeconomic variables and predicted flood levels. Flooding is already increasing in Indiana, and this tool will help communities understand, alleviate and manage water inundations.


To expand news coverage of environmental change, the institute, in partnership with The Media School at IU Bloomington, founded the editorially independent Indiana Environmental Reporter. This news outlet, which offers factual information about environmental change in Indiana, produces articles, videos, podcasts and more.

Also, with support from the Grand Challenges program, Indiana Public Media hired Rebecca Thiele to cover environment and energy issues in Indiana. Thiele’s stories are on the radio, including past features on WTIU, and may be followed on Twitter.

In an effort to ensure that future generations understand how personal decisions affect the world, the institute launched a teacher-training program in partnership with the WonderLab Museum of Science, Health and Technology in Bloomington. A summer 2018 workshop hosted 19 middle and high school science teachers from around Indiana. Activities included classroom-based modules on global climate science, field-based research on soil carbon respiration, and tree-ring research and stakeholder exercises integrating scientific and policy approaches to address climate change. The institute and WonderLab will host two teacher workshops in summer 2019.

Looking ahead

Starting this fall, four new faculty and 12 new Environmental Resilience Institute fellows, funded by the Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge, will integrate their experience and expertise into existing and new projects addressing a wealth of preparedness issues and will assist in developing solutions for Indiana and beyond. As the institute looks toward the next year, plans are in place to release the Hoosier Social-Environmental Survey, documenting community responses to climate change; gather community feedback on the Hoosier Resilience Index, an online tool to evaluate progress toward resilience; and make data available from a statewide inventory of urban green infrastructure.

Learn more about the institute’s latest activities on Facebook and Twitter.

Andrea Webster is the implementation manager at the Environmental Resilience Institute.

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K9 officer Indy at IU Bloomington on Tuesday, March 19, 2024. (Photo by Chris Meyer/Indiana University)
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