Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Natural Resources

First Advisor

Kimberly F. Wallin

Second Advisor

Sara Helms Cahan


Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and transmitted by multiple triatomine vectors across the Americas. In Central America, the predominant vector is Triatoma dimidiata, a highly adaptable and genetically diverse Hemiptera. In this research, we used a novel reduced-representation DNA sequencing approach to discover community dynamics among multiple biotic factors associated with Chagas disease in Central America, and assess the infestation patterns of T. dimidiata after seasonal and chemical disturbances in Jutiapa, Guatemala. For our first study, we used a hierarchical sampling design to obtain multi-species DNA data found in the abdomens of 32 T. dimidiata specimens from Central America. We aimed to understand (1) the prevalence of T. cruzi infection, (2) the population genetics of the vector and parasite, (3) the blood meal history of the vector, and (4) gut microbial diversity. Our results indicated the presence of nine infected vectors harboring two distinct DTUs: TcI and possibly TcIV. We found significant clusters among T. dimidiata populations in countrywide and within-country levels associated with sylvatic ecotopes and diverse domestic genotypes. There was significantly higher bacteria species richness in infected T. dimidiata abdomens than those that were not infected, with further analysis suggesting that gut bacteria diversity relates to both T. cruzi infection and the local environment. We identified vertebrate blood meals from five T. dimidiata abdomens including chicken, dog, duck and human; however, additional detection methods are necessary to confidently identify blood meal sources. In our second study, we analyzed the GBS genotypes of 440 T. dimidiata specimens collected in two towns of Jutiapa, Guatemala. Our aim was to assess (1) the domestic population patterns that aid the recovery of T. dimidiata after an insecticide treatment in El Carrizal and (2) the seasonal changes that regulate the dispersal of the vector in the untreated communities of El Chaperno. Results showed that the insecticide application was effective at reducing the population abundance immediately after the application in El Carrizal; nevertheless, 18-month post-treatment the town-wide infestation and genetic diversity were recovering. Within-house relatedness among specimens recovered 18 months post-treatment, suggesting that the insecticide treatment failed to fully eliminate domiciliated colonies. In contrast, lack of change in abundance or genetic diversity in El Chaperno implied absence of dispersers from sources beyond the town periphery, while evidence of a decrease of relatedness among individuals implied dispersal among houses. After the insecticide treatment in El Carrizal, population reduction led to lack of genetic spatial autocorrelation; nevertheless, rapid dispersal into neighboring houses lead to autocorrelation 18 months after the insecticide treatment. This pattern was also observed in El Chaperno, where an increase in spatial autocorrelation during seasonal dispersal suggests spillover to close-by households. The creation of a novel genomics pipeline allowed us to understand community and dispersal patterns of T. dimidiata and other biotic factors important for the prevalence and transmission of Chagas disease at local and regional levels. Future studies should include complementary approaches for taxa verification (e.g. bacteria 16S barcoding, PCR-base detection), as well as expand the scope of local population analyses to peridomestic and sylvatic genotypes that could suggest a broader range of vector sources and region-wide patterns of temporal and spatial dispersion.



Number of Pages

295 p.