What’s the buzz? An investigation on how urbanization impacts mosquito species distribution

Lilith South, a junior from the University of Georgia, worked with Mike Newberry in the lab of Dr. Courtney Murdock to study the relationship between urbanization and distribution of mosquito species.

Abstract:   Impervious surfaces, mainly paved roads and buildings, significantly impact microclimate by making an area hotter and less humid. For this reason, urban areas are warmer than less developed rural areas. Heat associated with high impervious surface coverage impacts mosquito development and decreases larval survival in Aedes albopictus. Although many species of mosquitoes are present in Athens, Georgia, the most prominent species and most important species for human health, Ae. albopictus, is one of few species that dominate the area. Ae. albopictus has shown potential vectoral capacity for diseases such as Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya. Fortunately, it does not yet transmit these diseases in the south eastern United States, but with changing climate and urbanization these diseases have potential to spread. The impact that impervious surface coverage has on mosquito community composition was not previously known. To investigate this effect, sites were classified and selected by their impervious surface coverage. Rural sites had impervious surface coverage ranging from 0-5%, suburban had 5-55%, and urban had 55-100% coverage.  Larval samples from each site were identified to species and the proportion of occupied habitats for each species in each site was noted. Overall, species richness decreased in suburban and urban areas with higher impervious surface coverage. Diversity was highest and there was a more even spread of species in rural areas. Contrary to what was expected, the percentage of Ae. albopictus occupied habitats did not significantly change with impervious surface coverage. Although previous studies suggest that Ae. albopictus is sensitive to hotter urban areas, this species may be more resilient than other mosquito species to the effects of urbanization. Knowing how urbanization impacts mosquito community composition can help researchers better understand disease transmittance and develop solutions for potential viral outbreaks.

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