Title: EPI Associate Research Professor and Associate Professor of Geography
College: Liberal Arts and Sciences, geography department
Curriculum vitaePDF
Research interests: GIS, remote sensing, ecological niche modeling, disease ecology, spatial distributions of disease, anthrax, Bacillus anthracis, bacterial zoonoses
Hobbies: Mountain biking, hiking, camping, fishing and birding

Dr. Jason Blackburn comes to EPI with expertise in the disease ecology of Bacillus anthracis relative to wildlife and livestock. Prior to joining EPI, Dr. Blackburn established and directed the Spatial Epidemiology and Ecology Research Laboratory at California State University in Fullerton where he was an assistant professor. He has training in geography, remote sensing, epidemiology and ecology and Dr. Blackburn will hold a joint position as a professor of geography and an investigator with EPI. He was the first to create a predictive model of where Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax, is most likely to occur in the contiguous U.S. based upon environmental factors and the presence of wildlife and domestic livestock.

“What we’ve shown with our modeling is that there is a line in the sand,” Dr. Blackburn said. “It’s distribution in the western states does to some extent match the rangeland habitats, the short and long grass prairies. It tends to establish itself in high alkaline soils. In the eastern states, we tend to see lower pH, and more acidic soils that create a crude line in the sand beyond which the organism just doesn’t survive.”

Dr. Blackburn focuses his research upon understanding the role of wildlife and domestic livestock in fine-resolution background rates of anthrax infection. To answer this question, he poses questions that involve working across scales from landscape level ecology down to population ecology and local species interactions.

“On a large scale, we do modeling based on field research and environmental conditions to determine or predict where B. anthracis is found,” Dr. Blackburn said. “We then use these results at local scales to set up surveillance priorities and for modeling to understand outbreak dynamics.”

His work in the U.S. currently focuses on areas of west and south Texas and western Montana, while internationally he works across Central Asia, Ukraine and the Caucasus through collaborative research funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. One aspect of his work involves spatial epidemiology and spatial dimensions of disease outbreaks, and another involves ecological niche modeling to better understand where and what environments might provide longterm spore survival of B. anthracis.

At the most local level, he uses telemetry to track wild herbivores such as deer and elk, in areas known to have had anthrax outbreaks, in order to understand wildlife behavior at both the individual and population level. Also at the local levels, he is working to understand specific ways in which wildlife and livestock acquire the bacteria. He is investigating the role of flies in moving the disease around spatially (biting flies and necrophilic flies).

Dr. Blackburn is also re-evaluating the role of background infections in wildlife during inter-decadal cycles of anthrax outbreaks. By working during the summertime, in areas known to have consistent or sporadic anthrax outbreaks, he and his colleagues scour the landscape for carcasses and test them for anthrax spores. This research is assisting him in piecing together a fine-resolution understanding of background rates of anthrax infection and the role it may play in disease persistence.

His other research interests include the spatial patterns of other bacterial zoonoses such as plague, brucellosis, and tularemia. Some of his research in the former Soviet Union countries include these other disease systems. His side projects also include wildlife and marine ecological niche modeling. He has an active collaboration modeling large cats, such as cougars, with the Texas Parks and Wildlife and he has an active National Marine Fisheries Shark Population Assessment Group collaborative project seeking to understand habitat use by sharks and tuna.

 

Contact information:
Emerging Pathogens Institute
University of Florida
P.O. Box 100009
Gainesville, Florida 32610-0009
Voice: (352) 392-0494
Email: jkblackburn@ufl.edu