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Visualizations of mosquito risk: A political ecology approach to understanding the territorialization of hazard control

vonHedemann, Nicolena, Butterworth, Melinda K., Robbins, Paul, Landau, Katheryn, Morin, Cory W.
Landscape and urban planning 2015 v.142 pp. 159-169
Culicidae, West Nile virus, environmental models, focus groups, geography, governance, landscapes, microhabitats, mosquito control, politics, remote sensing, risk, simulation models, vector control, Southwestern United States
Sophisticated geospatial modeling of environmental problems and hazards is far advanced in geography, decision science, and related fields. The political ecological application of these tools, especially in visualizing, debating, and contesting risk, is underdeveloped, however. By using visualizations of risk as an analytical tool to explore the views of citizens and county health officials, geospatial models can help to explore the schisms, connections, and associations among complex landscapes, diverse publics, and logics of governance. In this paper, we explore the case of West Nile virus in the Southwest United States, a site where county health departments, vector control districts, and urban residents practice varying methods of mosquito management. We created geospatial visualizations of mosquito microhabitat using a dynamic simulation model and remotely sensed imagery. These data, when differentially aggregated, produced divergent visualizations of mosquito risk spaces across the city of Tucson. Presenting maps to neighborhood residents and local health officials, we found they invited different understandings of spatialized areas of responsibility for mosquito management. Neighborhood focus groups expressed territorial notions of risk and responsibility that diverged widely from those of health officials. Visualizations were shown to both reflect and produce different mosquito narratives, showing how mapped models can help elicit political–ecological insight into the territorialization of mosquito control.