Faculty Seed Grant Projects

2018-19

Climate change and the dynamics of mosquito populations in Virginia

Investigators:
 

This study is funded jointly by the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech and the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment (ISCE).

 

According to the World Health Organization, mosquito bites result in the death of more than one million people due to the diseases they transmit (e.g. Malaria, Zika)(1). In Virginia, every summer, thousands of people complain to their local and state government officials about the mosquito problems they encounter (2). Physical parameters such as temperature, precipitation, and the time of day and year directly affect the biology of mosquitoes (3) and it is the complex interplay of these factors that determines the overall effect of climate on local mosquito populations.

Considering ongoing climate change, frequent dramatic weather events, and the ability of mosquito species to invade new areas, it is essential to define the link between climatic changes and the response of mosquito populations. However, despite obvious epidemiological consequences, this link remains understudied in Virginia. Furthermore, only 49% of Virginians think climate change is currency harming or will harm people in Virginia within the next 10 years (4), suggesting that citizens do not link the climate with vector-borne diseases.

Here, we propose to determine the yearly spatial and temporal dynamics of mosquito populations, forecast the potential effects of climate change on these dynamics, and leverage citizen participation to monitor the perception of mosquito nuisance. Our hypothesis is that increase in temperature linked with climate change will affect mosquito population dynamics in Virginia, and that these data can be used to sensitize citizens to potential negative consequences of climate change. We will rely on citizen surveys, mosquito trapping, satellite-derived data and advanced ecological niche modeling to accomplish the following objectives:

Research objective 1: To explore the perception of climate change and mosquito presence by citizen participants, which will also act as a platform for outreach by educating the participants involved in this project;

Research objective 2: To study when and where density of mosquitoes increases during the year and to determine environmental (e.g. temperature vs. precipitation) and anthropogenic (e.g. landscape) factors driving the spatial distribution of mosquito populations;

Research objective 3: To predict the effect of climate change on mosquito populations in Virginia.

Examples of mosquito traps deployed at Mountain Lake Biological Station in Giles County, VA.

References: 1. WHO, World health statistics 2017: monitoring health for the SDGs, Sustainable Development Goals; 2. http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/ zika- virusupdate/ information -on-mosquitoes/; 3. Christophers, 1960. Bionomics and Structure.; 4. https://www.climatechange communication.org/wp-content/uploads/.