The Rachel Carson Prize is awarded annually to the best article by an early career researcher in People and Nature. For full information on the prize’s history, please visit the BES website.

Winner of the Rachel Carson Prize 2022 – Michelle V. Evans

‘Socio-ecological dynamics in urban systems: An integrative approach to mosquito-borne disease in Bengaluru, India’
Michelle V. Evans, Siddharth Bhatnagar, John M. Drake, Courtney C. Murdock, and Shomen Mukherjee (People and Nature, 4:3)

In this study, Michelle and her team wanted to understand how the interactions between people and mosquitoes change across an urban gradient from multiple disciplinary viewpoints. In practice, this meant combining entomological sampling for mosquitoes, semi-structured interviews with community members, and sketch mapping exercises where people identified mosquito sources in their neighbourhoods, and then putting these data into conversation with each other. Two themes emerged: 1) how people experience changes in mosquito abundance and community composition is mediated by their social vulnerability, specifically their ability to exert control over public spaces, and 2) each of the approaches highlighted different spatial scales, revealing spatial patterns missed by the other.

Michelle has been interested in nature and the environment from a young age, and, during her bachelor’s degree, became more aware of the lack of humans in many people’s imaginations of nature, and the ways in which science and ecology has, at times, been harmful to human communities. After experiencing generations of expertise during her time serving as an Agroforestry Advisor with the Peace Corps in Guinea, Michelle pursued a doctoral degree in Integrative Conservation and Ecology, focusing on disease ecology. This degree programme allowed her to continue exploring the theory and natural history that sparked her initial interest, while providing the perspective and social science tools to explore new ways of ‘doing ecology’.

“Easily the best part of conducting this research was the opportunity to engage more with the people living where we were conducting mosquito sampling,” Michelle said. “When I’ve conducted entomological sampling in the past, interactions with property owners are often brief and consist mainly of explaining the project and results and the occasional wave hello. During interviews, we sat down with residents and got to know them better. They showed us around their neighbourhoods, and we shared many cups of chai. It was truly a pleasure to listen to peoples’ stories, and always nice to see a smiling face the next time we came to pick up freshly caught mosquitoes.”

Michelle’s own research has since transitioned to a more public health focus, beginning a new project co-creating predictive models of disease through a series of participatory modelling workshops to develop new conceptualisations of disease systems, considering perspectives from health practitioners, researchers, and health systems specialists.

Find the winning paper, as well as the shortlisted papers for the 2022 Rachel Carson Prize, in this virtual issue.