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Open Access Research

Terrestrial vegetation and aquatic chemistry influence larval mosquito abundance in catch basins, Chicago, USA

Allison M Gardner1*, Tavis K Anderson2, Gabriel L Hamer3, Dana E Johnson1, Kate E Varela1, Edward D Walker4 and Marilyn O Ruiz1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pathobiology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2001 South Lincoln Avenue, Urbana, IL, 61802, USA

2 Virus and Prion Research Unit, National Animal Disease Center, USDA-ARS, Ames, IA, 50010, USA

3 Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University, TAMU 2475, College Station, TX, 77843, USA

4 Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Michigan State University, 2215 Biomedical Physical Sciences, East Lansing, MI, 48824, USA

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Parasites & Vectors 2013, 6:9  doi:10.1186/1756-3305-6-9

Published: 11 January 2013

Abstract

Background

An important determinant of mosquito-borne pathogen transmission is the spatial distribution of vectors. The primary vectors of West Nile virus (WNV) in Illinois are Culex pipiens Linnaeus (Diptera: Culicidae) and Culex restuans Theobald. In urban environments, these mosquitoes commonly oviposit in roadside storm water catch basins. However, use of this habitat is inconsistent, with abundance of larvae varying significantly across catch basins at a fine spatial scale.

Methods

We tested the hypothesis that attributes of the biotic and abiotic environment contribute to spatial and temporal variation in production of mosquito vectors, characterizing the relationship between terrestrial vegetation and aquatic chemistry and Culex abundance in Chicago, Illinois. Larvae were sampled from 60 catch basins from June 14 to October 3, 2009. Density of shrubs and 14 tree genera surrounding the basins were quantified, as well as aquatic chemistry content of each basin.

Results

We demonstrate that the spatial pattern of Culex abundance in catch basins is strongly influenced by environmental characteristics, resulting in significant variation across the urban landscape. Using regression and machine learning techniques, we described landscape features and microhabitat characteristics of four Chicago neighborhoods and examined the implications of these measures for larval abundance in adjacent catch basins. The important positive predictors of high larval abundance were aquatic ammonia, nitrates, and area of shrubs of height <1 m surrounding the catch basins, whereas pH and area of flowering shrub were negatively correlated with larval abundance. Tree density, particularly of arborvitae, maple, and pear, also positively influenced the distribution of Culex during the fruit-bearing periods and early senescent periods in August and September.

Conclusions

This study identifies environmental predictors of mosquito production in urban environments. Because an abundance of adult Culex is integral to efficient WNV transmission and mosquitoes are found in especially high densities near larval habitats, identifying aquatic sites for Culex and landscape features that promote larval production are important in predicting the spatial pattern of cases of human and veterinary illness. Thus, these data enable accurate assessment of regions at risk for exposure to WNV and aid in the prevention of vector-borne disease transmission.

Keywords:
Culex mosquitoes; Larval habitat; Landscape ecology; Vegetation; Aquatic chemistry; Geographic information science; West Nile virus