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Frederic Bartumeus, Principal Researcher/ ICREA Research Professor at CSIC, Spain

“In disease ecology, we need to solve pivotal challenges for the future. However, everything is interconnected, and there are many organisational scales and actors at play. I see myself bringing innovation and modern ways of producing and dealing with data that can revolutionize the field”

Can you tell us about the history, goals and strategy of your organisation?

I am working at CSIC, the Spanish National Research Council – a State Agency for scientific research and technological development. There are 121 different research centres in the research council focusing on topics such as physics, social sciences, engineering and biology. I am working at the Centre for Advanced Studies, a research centre for aquatic ecology, leading the theoretical and computational ecology lab that focuses on modelling and computation, specifics of animal movement, vector ecology, and disease ecology. In 2009 I started working in the field of mosquitos and in 2013 I launched an innovative approach to trace mosquitos using smartphones and citizen science. As a modeller, it is important to know the limitations of mosquito trap data. Other data sources could be bringing information about presence-absence of mosquitos as well as their biting activity at an unprecedented level of detail.

What exactly does your organisation do in the DURABLE project?

We are developing Mosquito Alert (, a citizen-based early warning system for mosquito-borne diseases across different countries. The platform has been translated into 20 languages. Over the past years, we have been collecting and annotating tens of thousands of mosquito images from citizens, resulting in the creation of the largest annotated dataset. Currently, we are focused on working to introduce AI for mosquito classification and other tasks into the system.

The DURABLE project is about the build-up of infrastructures and networks for outbreak preparedness. Novel digital, citizen-based surveillance systems need to be thought as of laboratories run by computational and data-driven scientists rather than by white-coat researchers. Two main research lines are needed to keep these systems: an operational mode constantly piping data and models to the public and stakeholders, and a development mode, exploring the scientific value of the data beyond the operational mode, to improve our prediction capacities on mosquito-borne diseases in Europe. 

In DURABLE, we collaborate closely with the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at KU Leuven.

How do you see the added value of your research team in the DURABLE project?

The DURABLE project is a network of infrastructures and people who have the tools to prepare for outbreaks. The Mosquito Alert app and the use of citizen-based early warning systems is one of the tested tools. We can contribute to the DURABLE project with our experience in disease ecology and mosquito-borne diseases, especially in the use of novel technologies (mobile phones and internet) to collect data and combine it with other sourced data to improve risk model predictions. During COVID-19 times, we were not prepared to communicate effectively the needs related to public health. Additionally, on a global scale, with slight cultural variations, novel technology was also not accepted as a reliable source of information (e.g. contract tracing and syndromes apps). In DURABLE, we want to learn more about communication strategies through digital marketing and other forms so we can target population sectors. We also want to measure the quality and quantity of information by citizens conditioned to the communication channel and strategy. In case of an outbreak, we need to know how to use social networks to engage citizen scientists and to enable them to understand better the benefits and limitations of digital vector and disease surveillance tools.

What are the next steps for you in DURABLE and what are you looking forward to?

On the operational side, DURABLE should be a way to make stakeholders understand that the mix of infrastructures is key for the future, and that these infrastructures require maintenance, hence, funding. The main challenge is bringing the Mosquito Alert platform to the next level and prepare it so that the system can be used right away if needed in different contexts, including real outbreak scenarios, and eventually expand its use to other regions such as Africa and Asia.

On the scientific side, we need to understand better the impact of different communication strategies on the quality and quantity of data produced by citizen scientists to improve our risk predictions. We also want to combine mosquito-related information with disease (arbovirus) information. In this sense, we will develop app surveys to trace mosquito-related disease syndromes that will be linked to the Mosquito Alert system. This last work is done in collaboration with the group of KU Leuven (Belgium).