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Uncovering mechanisms behind mosquito seasonality by integrating mathematical models and daily empirical population data: Culex pipiens in the UK

Ewing, David A., Purse, Bethan V., Cobbold, Christina A., Schäfer, Stefanie M., White, Steven M.
Parasites & vectors 2019 v.12 no.1 pp. 74
Culex pipiens, West Nile virus, adults, aquatic habitat, data collection, disease outbreaks, disease transmission, environmental factors, equations, immatures, insect larvae, mathematical models, mortality, mosquito control, mosquito-borne diseases, pathogens, phenology, predation, prediction, rain, species abundance, traps, England
BACKGROUND: Many mosquito-borne diseases exhibit substantial seasonality, due to strong links between environmental variables and vector and pathogen life-cycles. Further, a range of density-dependent and density-independent biotic and abiotic processes affect the phenology of mosquito populations, with potentially large knock-on effects for vector dynamics and disease transmission. Whilst it is understood that density-independent and density-dependent processes affect seasonal population levels, it is not clear how these interact temporally to shape the population peaks and troughs. Due to this, the paucity of high-resolution data for validation, and the difficulty of parameterizing density-dependent processes, models of vector dynamics may poorly estimate abundances, which has knock-on effects for our ability predict vector-borne disease outbreaks. RESULTS: We present a rich dataset describing seasonal abundance patterns of each life stage of Culex pipiens, a widespread vector of West Nile virus, at a field site in southern England in 2015. Abundance of immature stages was measured three times per week, whilst adult traps were run four nights each week. This dataset is integrated with an existing delay-differential equation model predicting Cx. pipiens seasonal abundance to improve understanding of observed seasonal abundance patterns. At our field site, the outcome of our model fitting suggests interspecific predation on mosquito larvae and temperature-dependent larval mortality combine to act as the main sources of population regulation throughout the active season, whilst competition for resources is a relatively small source of larval mortality. CONCLUSIONS: The model suggests that density-independent mortality and interspecific predation interact to shape patterns of mosquito seasonal abundance in a permanent aquatic habitat and we propose that competition for resources is likely to be important where periods of high rainfall create transient habitats. Further, we highlight the importance of challenging population abundance models with data from across all life stages of the species of interest if reliable inferences are to be drawn from these models, particularly when considering mosquito control and vector-borne disease transmission.