Social media and blood suckers showcased at the International Congress of Entomology

instagram_wetlands_webb

Digital technology is changing a lot about how we undertake entomological research and communicate the results of that research to the community and policy makers.

This week in Orlando, Florida, is the International Congress of Entomology (ICE). A huge gathering of entomologists from around the world. While it was a great pleasure to be invited to participate, I couldn’t get over there this time.

I will, however, have a chance to present my work in the Symposium “Entomology in the Digital Age”  Friday, September 30, 2016 (01:30 PM – 04:45 PM), Convention Centre Room W222 A.

In the presentation I’ll share some of the reasoning behind my use of social media to engage the community with both entomological research and public health communication. Most importantly, it will focus on some of the metrics I’ve recorded alongside my use of social media, maintaining a blog of research and writing for outlets such as The Conversation.

I’ve written about my use of social media and how it can help extend the reach of public health messages and presented on the topic alongside a range of great speakers at the 2014 Entomological Society of America meeting in Portland.

This time around, technology is playing an even more direct role in my presentation! I’ve pre-recorded my presentation and it will be shown to the audience on the day among other presentations. I’ll also be checking into the session to answer questions. Despite the fact I’ll need to be up around 1:30am due to time differences, it should be fun.

See the abstract below…

Taking entomological research from the swamps to the suburbs with social media

Cameron E Webb

Connecting scientists and the community is critical. This is particularly the case for medical entomologists working in the field of mosquito-borne disease where the translation of entomological research into improved public health outcomes is a priority. While traditional media has been the mainstay of public health communications by local authorities, social media provides new avenues for disseminating information and engaging with the wider community. This presentation will share some insights into how the use of social media has connected new and old communications strategies to not only extend the reach of public health messages but also provide an opportunity to promote entomological research and wetland conservation. A range of social media platforms, including Twitter, Instagram, and WordPress, were employed to disseminate public health messages and engage the community and traditional media outlets. Engagement with the accounts of traditional media (e.g. radio, print, television, online) was found to be the main route to increased exposure and, subsequently, to increased access of public health information online. With the increasing accessibility of the community to online resources via smartphones, researchers and public health advocates must develop strategies to effectively use social media. Many people now turn to social media as a source of news and information and those in the field of public health, as well as entomological research more generally, must take advantage of these new opportunities. doi: 10.1603/ICE.2016.94611


If you’re at ICE, you can also catch up with my PhD student David Lilly who’ll be presenting our research into the development of insecticide resistance in bed bugs as part of the symposium “New Insights into Biology, Resistance Mechanisms, and the Management of the Modern Bed Bug” Friday, September 30, 2016, 01:30 PM – 04:45 PM, Convention Center, West Hall F4 (WF4).

Novel insecticide resistant mechanisms in the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius

David Lilly, Cameron E Webb and Stephen Doggett

Introduction: Research on field strains of Cimex lectularius from Australia has identified widespread resistance to pyrethroid insecticides, but variability in the magnitude expressed. To determine if differences in resistance mechanisms exist, collected strains were examined for the presence of metabolic detoxification and/or cuticle thickening. Methods: The presence and relative contribution of detoxifying esterases or cytochrome P450 monooxygenases were assessed. Bed bugs collected from Parramatta (NSW), Melbourne (VIC) – 2 strains, ‘No.2’ and ‘No.4’, and Alice Springs (NT) were exposed in topical bioassays employing deltamethrin and two pyrethroid synergists: piperonyl butoxide (PBO) and EN16/5-1. PBO inhibits both monooxygenases and esterases, whereas EN16/5-1 will inhibit esterases only. Thus in a comparative bioassay, the results can infer the dominant enzyme system. The Parramatta strain was then selected to study the potential presence of cuticle thickening. Nine-day-old male bed bugs were exposed to filter papers treated with the highest label rate of Demand Insecticide®(200mL/10L of 25g/L lambda-cyhalothrin) and were grouped according to time-to-knockdown (< 2 hours, ≥ 4 hours, and survivors at 24 hours). Measurements of mean cuticle thickness at the transverse midpoint of the second leg tarsus were taken under electron microscope. Results/Conclusion: All strains possessed resistance that was inhibited by the synergists, with the Parramatta and Melbourne No.2 indicating esterase-dominance, and Alice Springs and Melbourne No.4 indicating cytochrome P450 monooxygenase-dominance. Cuticular measurements demonstrated that bed bugs surviving deltamethrin exposure had significantly thicker cuticles, denoting a novel form of resistance in these insects. doi: 10.1603/ICE.2016.92553

 

You can also see Stephen Doggett (co-author and photographer of A Guide to Mosquitoes of Australia) speaking on photographing mosquitoes to in the symposium “Insect Photography Symposium: Bringing the Small to the World.


You can join the conversation on Twitter and keep an eye on all the fun in Orlando by keeping an eye on the tweet stream!

 

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Asian tigers and shifting mosquito control from the swamps to the suburbs

aedes_albopictus_SteveDoggettOne of the world’s most troublesome nuisance-biting mosquitoes is perfectly adapted to summer life in southern cities in Australia. This is bad news for communities in temperate climate regions in Australia that would otherwise be immune from the threats of exotic mosquito vectors of dengue and chikungunya virus otherwise limited to tropical regions of the world.

I’ve been invited to speak in the “Managing Current & Future Exotic Mosquito Threats” symposium at the Australian Entomological Society conference to share some of the experiences in temperate Australia regarding exotic and endemic mosquito threats and how the threat of the Asian Tiger Mosquito is being addressed.

Australia has annual activity of mosquito-borne disease. Around 5,000 people a year fall ill following a mosquito bite each year in Australia, most commonly due to Ross River virus. These pathogens are generally spread by native “wetland” mosquitoes such as Aedes vigilax or Culex annulirositrs). Australia has also had major outbreaks of dengue in the past but the only mosquito in Australia able to spread the viruses, Aedes aegypti, is restricted to far north QLD. It is unlikely to spread to southern cities beyond Brisbane based on temperature change alone but there is another mosquito that may pose a threat of dengue or chikungunya virus transmission in southern regions.

The Asian Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus), poses a significant threat to Australia. It was discovered in the Torres Strait in 2005, having thought to have hitchhiked on fishing boats from Indonesia. Although the mosquito hasn’t yet managed to set up home on mainland Australia, its a more likely a question of when, not if, this mosquito will make its way here.

The container-inhabiting (not wetland living) mosquito has already hitchhiked to Europe and North America with eggs carried with people and their belongings. Movement of people, not shifts in climate is the biggest risk. Should it reach one of our major southern cities, there is little doubt that mosquito could become a persistent summer pest and possible public health threat. The way we respond to water shortages in our cities, by increasing water storage around our homes, may set the scene for this mozzie to move in.

Once the mosquito is established in our cities, all we need are travellers to bring in the viruses. Travellers introduce dengue virus into Far North QLD every year. Last year Japan experienced its biggest outbreak of dengue in over 70 years thanks to a traveller introducing the virus to local mosquitoes in downtown Tokyo. This Tokyo outbreak of dengue has implications for local authorities in Australia.

In my presentation at the Australian Entomological Society conference, I’ll highlight some of the issues to consider when assessing the risks posed by exotic mosquitoes in New South Wales as well as outline some of the problems local authorities may have to face when dealing with these mosquitoes that differ from the current focus of mosquito and mosquito-borne disease surveillance and control strategies.

You can view my presentation slides and abstract below:

Developing a strategic response to exotic mosquito threats in NSW

Cameron E Webb (1,2), Jay Nicolson (3), Andrew van den Hurk (4) & Stephen L Doggett (1)

(1)Department of Medical Entomology, Pathology West – ICPMR Westmead, Level 3, ICPMR, Westmead Hospital, Westmead NSW 2145 Australia; (2) Marie Bashir Institute of Infectious Disease and Biosecurity, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia; (3) School of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6009, Australia; (4) Virology, Public and Environmental Health, Forensic and Scientific Services, Department of Health, Queensland Government, Brisbane, QLD 4108, Australia.

Mosquito-borne disease management in Australia faces challenges on many fronts. Home growth threats posed by endemic mosquito-borne pathogens (e.g. Ross River virus (RRV)) may increase with a changing climate but exotic mosquitoes and pathogens are an emerging threat. In the absence of a national strategy to address these exotic threats, local authorities must develop regionally specific surveillance and response programs to identify and respond to exotic mosquito incursion. The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, poses the greatest risk to temperate regions of Australia due to their close ecological associations with urban habitats and ability to transmit exotic pathogens (e.g. dengue viruses (DENV) and chikungunya virus (CHIKV)). The mosquito is widespread in local regions, has been detected at international ports and, given the increasing frequency of local travellers to regions where this mosquito is abundant, it raises the potential that an incursion into metropolitan Sydney in the coming years is probable. When this happens, what is the likelihood that this mosquito becomes established? Laboratory studies have confirmed Ae. albopictus could survive in the egg stage under climatic conditions typical of a Sydney winter. Despite the endemic mosquito, Aedes notoscriptus, sharing the same ecological niche to Ae. albopictus, cohabitation studies demonstrated that no interspecies competition would act to limit the local spread of Ae. albopictus and the mosquito could proliferating in the summer. Critically, vector competence experiments have demonstrated the ability of Ae. albopictus to transmit endemic pathogens and, given their propensity to bite humans, could contribute to human-mosquito-human outbreaks of RRV in urban areas of NSW, complementing the enzootic vectors that currently limit transmission to the metropolitan fringe. Local authorities need to develop a multiagency strategic approach to surveillance concomitant with strategic response to reduce the pest and public health threats associated with exotic mosquitoes.

Make sure you check out the tweets from the Australian Entomological Society Annual Conference in Cairns, QLD, 27 September through 1 October 2015, by clicking on #AusEntoSoc15

Solving the common mystery of the cat flea

You may be inclined to think that we know everything we need to know about the flea but we don’t. They infest our pets and our homes; we treat them with a variety of substances and yet they are near impossible to exterminate. Importantly, they occasionally bite people, causing annoyance and sometimes severe skin reactions. You may also think this is all we really need to know them. In fact, these parasites are often overlooked in terms of their significance to animal health, their competence as disease vectors and the impacts they make on our everyday lives. There is much more to these irritating insects than meets the eye.

This is the first “guest post” on my blog and comes from my PhD student Andrea Lawrence (University of Sydney) ahead of her presentations at the Australian Society for Parasitology conference in Canberra next week (looks like a wonderful program of events this year!). I’m hoping that there will be plenty more guest posts from Andrea and my other students in the near future.

The most common flea encountered in Australia is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. Just because your dog has fleas, it doesn’t mean it has dog fleas (Ctenocephalides canis). This is a common misconception. In fact, it appears as if the dog flea is something of a mythical creature in Australia. Despite historical records and anecdotal reports of dog flea infestations, there is no recent literature confirming their presence. A recent study of over 2,500 pets failed to find a dog flea. As such, if your pet is troubled with fleas, you can likely lay the blame solely on the cat flea.

The cat flea is the top ectoparasite affecting cats and dogs globally for a variety of reasons. They are the cause of up to 50% of all dermatological cases presented to vet clinics world-wide. Pet owners are spending $40 to $70 on flea and tick control products per month and, based on figures from the United States, over $1 billion annually. That is a lot of money to spend only to have the fleas come back time after time.

As well as the nuisance-biting, the cat flea also carries zoonotic pathogens such as Bartonella (bacteria that causes cat scratch disease in hypersensitive or immunocompromised people) and Rickettsia (bacteria that causes murine typhus and flea-borne spotted fever).

There may also be many cases of underdiagnosed febrile illnesses caused by flea-borne pathogens that fly under the radar due to the presentation of generic fever and flu-like symptoms that rarely warrant further pathological investigation. Of course, the most famous and historically significant pathogen spread by fleas is the plague bacteria: Yersinia pestis. Plague is certainly not a thing of the past with recent outbreaks in Madagascar and up to 17 cases reported from North America each year. Considering the highly ubiquitous nature of fleas in human environments, and many species’ tendency to be host generalists – particularly the cat flea – shouldn’t we be more concerned, or at least more aware, of their biology, taxonomy and potential public health risks?

Professional Ratcatchers from Views taken during Cleansing Operations, Quarantine Area, Sydney, 1900

Although the pathogens that cause plague are not endemic to Australia, plague has touched Australia with significant impact. Here are some professional ratcatchers from Sydney, Australia, during the plague outbreak in 1900 (Source: State Library Image Collection)

Given the impact these little parasites have on our lives, it is baffling how little we know about them. The genetic profile of the cat flea is highly understudied and yet within the genetic code lies hidden implications for the evolution of insecticide resistance, disease transmission and the passage of fleas across continents and the global sphere. A study from the Veterinary Parasitology unit at the University of Sydney found that in 2011 across 5 states of Australia cat fleas collected from veterinary practices were 100% genetically identical at the mitochondrial DNA. This was a very unusual result as populations of other flea species are generally very diverse. The result was comforting news at the time for the regulation of veterinary pharmaceuticals as the efficacy of flea control products were able to be compared against flea populations across the entire country.

Taken from “How to get rid of fleas at home” via Appliances online blog.

We know fleas from Australia are genetically similar but what about elsewhere? We broadened the scope of the investigation and compared the fleas from Australia to those collected from Thailand, Fiji and Seychelles: a group of Islands north-east of Madagascar. These results showed that from a global perspective, cat fleas are genetically diverse. The 2013 flea season yielded a novel second Australian haplotype found in north-east Australia which contradicts the unanimous results from the previous study in 2011. This haplotype was shared with most fleas tested from Fiji, suggesting some recent flea transfer between the two countries. With the rapid emergence of this second haplotype since the previous study, it sparks the question of whether there may be a division of fitness between the two haplotypes. Could this division be resulting in a steady ‘invasion’ of Australia by the second haplotype?

To investigate the haplotype diversity in this study we developed a novel genetic marker capable of clearly delineating different flea species, subspecies and haplotypes. Previously, genetic studies primarily used a mitochondrial DNA marker called cox2. However, there is an emerging global standard of genetic taxonomy called DNA barcoding, which uses a similar gene called cox1. This method involves storing massive amount of short DNA sequences in an electronic database, accessible to anyone with internet access. Currently the database called Barcode of Life Database or BOLD holds 3 million ‘barcodes’, 2 million of which are arthropod barcodes. I wanted to align fleas with this emerging global standard by developing a cox1 marker that would work for fleas. It is surprising given the global significance fleas that the marker has not been optimised before. The ‘barcodes’ collected from this study are now available on BOLD and can be searched allowing greater dissemination of and accessibility to flea genetic data.

A change in the genetic makeup of Australia’s flea population as discovered recently has implications for the pharmaceutical companies who can no longer apply a blanket approach to flea control efficacy testing. Research is continuing this year in the Veterinary Parasitology Unit at The University of Sydney to monitor the rate of spread of this second haplotype. In time I hope this may yield greater understanding of the cat flea genetic puzzle that will lead to finding the key to effective control of these tenacious blood-sucking creatures and the diseases they carry.

The abstract for Andrea’s paper is below:

The cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae) (Bouché), is the most common flea species found on cats and dogs worldwide. We investigated the genetic identity of the cosmopolitan subspecies C. felis felis and evaluated diversity of cat fleas from Australia, Fiji, Thailand and Seychelles using mtDNA sequences from cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (cox1) and II (cox2) genes. Both cox1 and cox2 confirmed the high phylogenetic diversity and paraphyletic origin of C. felis felis. The African subspecies C. felis strongylus (Jordan) is nested within the paraphyletic C. felis felis. The south East Asian subspecies C. felis orientis (Jordan) is monophyletic and is supported by morphology. We confirm that Australian cat fleas belong to C. felis felis and show that in Australia they form two distinct phylogenetic clades, one common with fleas from Fiji. Using a barcoding approach, we recognize two putative species within C. felis (C. felis and C. orientis). Nucleotide diversity was higher in cox1 but COX2 outperformed COX1 in amino acid diversity. COX2 amino acid sequences resolve all phylogenetic clades and provide an additional phylogenetic signal. Both cox1 and cox2 resolved identical phylogeny and are suitable for population structure studies of Ctenocephalides species.

The full reference of the paper is:

Lawrence, A. L., Brown, G. K., Peters, B., Spielman, D. S., Morin-Adeline, V. and Šlapeta, J. (2014), High phylogenetic diversity of the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) at two mitochondrial DNA markers. Medical and Veterinary Entomology [early view]doi: 10.1111/mve.12051 [Online]

(The image of the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis, at the top of this blog post is taken from the PaDIL image collection by K Walker)

Mosquitoes, constructed wetlands, urban design and climate change: Some workshop resources

wetlandswalkThis is a short summary of resources supporting my lecture on “Mosquito Management, Climate Change and Urban Design” at Environmental Health Association of NSW Public Health School on Monday 24 March 2014, Sydney Olympic Park.

The nuisance-biting and potential transmission of pathogens by mosquitoes in coastal Australia is a concern for local authorities. Increasingly so at the fringes of our cities. There has been something of a resurgence in Ross River virus this year with the virus isolated from mosquitoes collected at a number of locations across NSW.

While it is difficult to determine exactly why this resurgence has been experienced this year, there are a number of factors that can predispose a region to elevated risk. An understanding of local risks are important and regionally specific mosquito management plans (i.e. the “Living with Mosquitoes” strategies) have been developed in the Hunter and Mid North Coast as well as the Central Coast regions of NSW. These documents provide an overview of mosquito fauna, identify key pest and vector species and their associated habitats and respective environmental drivers of abundance. With the provision of information on mosquito management strategies, local authorities can develop regionally specific responses to seasonal pest and public health risks.

wetlands_sydneyparkAs well as providing strategies for local authorities on mosquito control activities, they also provide opportunities to shape future mosquito-borne disease risk through urban design. While efforts are underway to better manage urban water conservation through Water Sensitive Urban Design, perhaps “Mosquito Aware urban Design” should also become an important component of new residential developments? There appears to be growing evidence that how we manage water in our cities will have just as great an impact of future mosquito-borne disease risk as climate change.

Despite the claims that often accompany discussion of the health impacts of climate change, Australia is unlikely to see a dramatic increase in “exotic” mosquito-borne disease. There may be regional increases in Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus with changes in rainfall, temperature, extreme weather events and sea level rise but, equally, some regions may see a decrease. Understanding the complex interactions between mosquitoes, wetlands, wildlife and pathogens is required to fully understand these “endemic” risks. Perhaps with regard to “exotic” risks associated with viruses such as dengue and chikungunya, it will be the introduction of exotic mosquitoes, such as the Asian Tiger Mosquito, Aedes albopictus, that will pose the greatest risk.

Monitoring mosquitoes and the pathogens they're carrying will remain critical in assisting the assessment and management of public health risks in Australia

Monitoring mosquitoes and the pathogens they’re carrying will remain critical in assisting the assessment and management of public health risks in Australia

There are many things Environmental Health Officers with local council or health authorities will need to consider when assessing local mosquito risks but the basis for all their decisions should come from a well designed and resources surveillance program. There are new technologies available for both the collection of mosquitoes as well as detection of pathogens. However, an understanding of regionally important pathogens, mosquitoes and their local habitats is critical.

The slides of my presentation are below:

 

Some key resources were included in the presentation and are linked to below.

For guidelines on the risk assessment of potential mosquitoes and mosquito-borne disease associated with constructed wetlands in western Sydney, see this document developed by Western Sydney Local Health District Byun & Webb – Guidelines for mosquito risk assessment and management in constructed wetlands – WSLHD – Nov 2012

There are two chapters contained within the recent eBook (free to download) “Workbook for Managing Urban Wetlands in Australia” that provide an understanding of mosquito and mosquito-borne disease risk more generally in association with freshwater constructed wetlands and estuarine rehabilitated wetlands.

 

 

Entomology 2013: Science Impacting a Connected World

IMG_7511The annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America takes place this week in Austin, Texas. I’ll be presenting a “virtual poster” on the mosquito-borne disease risk factors associated with wetland rehabilitation, urban development and climate change.

I wish I could be there in Austin. I was luck enough to visit in February 2012 when I attended the annual meeting of the American Mosquito Control Association. It is a wonderful city and I hope to make it back someday soon.

IMG_5671Even though it will only be “virtual” attendance, I’m still excited about sharing my work at this meeting. It summarizes some of the my major research interests that revolve around the use of urban planning to assist the reduction in mosquito-borne disease. Particularly with regard to wetland rehabilitation and wildlife management. The use of planning instruments is important and just as authorities reconsider the approach to urban plannign in bushfire prone areas, perhaps authorities should consider approving new developments in areas where another hazard of the Australian environment is present…..mosquitoes. Some councils are already aware of the risks and attempting to manage those risks.

The Saltmarsh Mosquito (Aedes vigilax) (Photo: Stephen Doggett)

The Saltmarsh Mosquito (Aedes vigilax) (Photo: Stephen Doggett)

Although the option to discuss my poster with attendees via Skype isn’t available this time, I hope that there is a bit of interest via Twitter. Check out #EntSoc13

Here are the details of my poster:

Managing mosquito-borne disease risk in response to weather, wetlands and wildlife in coastal Australia

Cameron E Webb

Mosquito-borne disease management in Australia faces challenges on many fronts. Many gaps exist in our understanding of the drivers of mosquito-borne disease risk, particularly with regard to Ross River virus (RRV) that causes a potentially severe flu-like illness. Notwithstanding the environmental drivers of mosquito abundance, the role of interactions between mosquitoes and wildlife may play a role in disease outbreaks. Local authorities in coastal Australia responsible for the management of new residential developments and wetland rehabilitation projects are increasingly aware of strategies to reduce mosquito-borne disease risk. Mapping actual and potential mosquito habitats, with consideration to the environmental drivers of mosquito abundance, such as rainfall and tidal inundation of estuarine wetlands, can inform an assessment of nuisance-biting and public health risks. These assessments can further inform urban planning approvals and adaptive management of wetlands. “Mosquito risk zones” based on mosquito-specific dispersal ranges from local habitats, characterised by vegetation type and potential environmental drivers of mosquito abundance, are being used to guide the design of new residential developments. In conjunction with these developments, constructed wetlands and other water conservation approaches (e.g. rainwater tanks, stormwater infrastructure) are assessed with regard to the potential to produce pest mosquito populations. Site-strategies to reduce these risks are considered. The role of macropods in urban mosquito-borne disease outbreaks, particularly RRV, requires further investigation. The presence of macropods has been shown to increase the risk of mosquito-borne disease. Studies have shown that RRV is more likely to be isolated from local mosquitoes in regions where macropods are present. Therefore, the management of wildlife corridors between urban developments and wetlands may increase the public health risks. Environmentally sensitive mosquito control strategies may be required to reduce the risks where suitable mosquito habitats and wildlife occur close to residential developments.

If you’re at ‘Entomology 2013’, check out my poster on Saturday, November 9, 2013: 3:20 PM (Austin time) in Meeting Room 11 AB (Austin Convention Center).

You can also view the poster here.

6th International Congress of the Society for Vector Ecology

Culex_molestus_Photo_StephenDoggettThis month, medical entomologists from across the globe will come together in California for the 6th International Congress of the Society for Vector Ecology. With thanks to a travel grant provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, two of my (recently completed) PhD students will be attending and presenting work on the role of mosquitoes in urban environments and mosquito-borne disease risk.

The Society for Vector Ecology was established in 1968 to bring together individuals interested in the management of vector-borne disease. This includes professionals mostly involved in mosquito research, mosquito control and surveillance operations and communications. Every four years, the society holds a congress either in North America or Europe. The couple of congresses that I’ve attended have been fantastic and I’m greatly disappointed not to be able to attend this year’s meeting.

The 6th International Congress of the Society for Vector Ecology is being held 22-27 September in La Quinta, California, USA. You can have a look at a PDF of the program here.

Although I won’t be able to make it, two of my PhD students will be attending after being awarded travel grants by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They will be presenting some of the work they completed as part of their PhD candidature.

The titles and abstracts of their presentations are below.

Understanding the ecological importance of mosquitoes to insectivorous bats and the implications for mosquito-borne disease management in coastal Australia

Leroy Gonsalves, Bradley Law, Cameron Webb, Vaughan Monamy and Brian Bicknell

Manangement of mosquito-borne disease risk in coastal Australia faces many challenges. Urbanisation is increasing the size and proximity of the community to productive mosquito habitats. Coastal wetlands are also the focus of conservation and rehabilitation efforts. Mosquitoes associated with these wetlands, in particular the saltmarsh mosquito, Aedes vigilax, are abundant, widely dispersing and key vectors of Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses. These mosquitoes may also represent an abundant prey resource for threatened and endangered insectivorous bat species and local authorities are reluctant to approve broadscale mosquito control programs due to concerns regarding indirect impacts on local bat populations. A combination of diet analysis, radio-tracking and prey abundance studies were undertaken. Analysing prey DNA within guano collected from 52 individuals representing five local bat species demonstrated that bats consumed a diverse range of prey dominated by lepidopterans. Consumption of Ae. vigilax was restricted to two species, Vespadelus pumilus and V. vulturnus. Radiotracking of 13 V. vulturnus individuals during periods of relatively large and small population abundances of Ae. vigilax, together with monitoring of prey abundance, revealed that foraging ranges of bats shifted in response to mosquito abundance (and no other prey). These findings suggest that there are species-specific relationships between bats and mosquitoes and that there may be site-specific strategies required to balance mosquito management and bat conservation.

The biology, distribution and genetics of Culex molestus in Australia?

Nur Faeza A Kassim, Cameron E Webb & Richard C Russell

The Culex pipiens subgroup of mosquitoes includes some of the most important vector species involved in mosquito-borne disease transmission internationally and four species within this subgroup are found in Australia. One of these species, Culex molestus, is thought to have been introduced into Australia in the 1940s. Closely associated with subterranean urban habitats, this mosquito has the potential to cause serious nuisance biting impacts but also may cause significant public health risks through the transmission of endemic arboviruses. Exotic pathogens, such as West Nile virus, may also pose a potential threat to biosecurity of Australia. Our review of the literature has confirmed that the current Australian distribution of Cx. molestus is limited to areas south of latitude -28.17ºS. However, given that the mosquito is established in habitats south of the corresponding zone in the northern hemisphere, there is potential for Cx. molestus to spread north into QLD and NT. Molecular analysis of the mosquito indicated that Australian Cx. molestus shared stronger genetic similarity with specimens from Asia than specimens from Europe or North America. Laboratory and field studies have shown that the mosquito is uniquely adapted to urban environments through the expression of autogeny (ability to lay their first batch of eggs without a blood meal) and stenogamy (ability to mate in confined spaces). Culex molestus is active throughout the year and the current trend towards increased water storage in urban areas of Australia has raised concerns of increased nuisance-biting and public health risks in the future. However, the results of our studies indicate that there may be biological and ecological barriers that may lessen the importance of this mosquito in urban mosquito-borne disease cycles. A delay in blood feeding resulting from their obligatory autogeny, combined with limited access to potential reservoir hosts, may reduce the likelihood of them playing a significant role in pathogen transmission.

Urban development and mosquito-borne disease

Image

In November 2012, I presented some of my work associated with Mosquito Risk Assessment and urban planning at the Australian Entomological Society and Australasian Arachnological Society – 2012 Conference, Hobart, Tasmania.

The title of my presentation was “Taking an ecological approach to wetland rehabilitation and urban development to reduce the risks of mosquito-borne disease in Australia“. The abstract is below.

Mosquito-borne disease management in coastal Australia faces many challenges. Increasing urbanisation is bringing the community closer to productive mosquito habitats but environmental management of coastal wetlands is often in conflict with effective mosquito control strategies. Annually abundant pest and vector mosquito populations bring with them the risks of disease caused by Ross River virus and Barmah Forest virus. Large scale wetland rehabilitation projects are increasing the availability of productive mosquito habitat while also providing refuge for known reservoir hosts (e.g. macropods, birds) of mosquito-borne viruses. Balancing the desire for environmental conservation with the need to protect the health of human communities requires integrated urban design strategies combined with targeted research. While broadscale mosquito control activities are restricted due to unresolved issues associated with potential ecological impacts, local authorities are looking to use planning instruments to minimize the impacts of local mosquitoes by requiring mosquito risk assessments to be conducted by developers, placing stringent controls on constructed water bodies and the incorporation of buffer zones between residential allotments and mosquito habitats. However, the effectiveness of these strategies is often site-specific and is determined by the local mosquito fauna. Potentially important onsite mosquito habitats are also being created through Water Sensitive Urban Design strategies intended to increase water conservation through above- and below-ground water treatment and storage.

Some background to the presentation is presented here.

Following this presentation, an article of mine was published on The Conversation website. “Using urban planning to reduce mosquito-borne disease” discusses many of the issues surrounding urban development and the increasing risk of mosquito-borne disease in Australia.