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Ecological Complexity, Mosquito Production, and Disease Risk

Lead Scientist(s): Dr. Shannon L. LaDeau

How do ecological systems regulate or facilitate mosquito production?  

Weekly oviposition traps have been monitored since 2010 at sites along a decreasing impervious surface cover area from Baltimore City to rural Baltimore County. These data demonstrate differences in species richness, vector abundances and phenology (timing of species' appearances and population peaks).

Seventeen species of mosquito larvae have been identified, including several medically important vector species and two species not known to feed on humans (Culex territans, Tox.septentrionalis). Samples from the most urban settings are dominated by invasive and human-biting species (Ae. albopictus, Ae. aegypti, Culex pipiens).

Stormwater drainage is an important component of any landscape and distinct differences in hydrologic permanence among engineered stormwater structures and natural forested pools provide an opportunity to investigate ecological complexity and mosquito production.

Mosquitoes generally have rapid lifecycles compared to many natural predators and persistence of water is a critical determinant of whether or not ecological regulation of mosquito production is effective.

Emergence Trap

How do socio-ecological systems regulate or facilitate pest infestations, exposure risk, and management outcomes in an urban landscape?

Despite over a century of organized and often sophisticated efforts to control mosquitoes, nuisance complaints persist and mosquito-borne diseases are a persistent and growing concern in urban communities across the globe.

The need for personal responsibility in managing urban pests at the scale of individual yards is increasingly viewed as the dominant paradigm for mosquito control in residential landscapes across the globe.

The Northeastern Integrated Pest Management Center funded work (lead PI, Paul Leisnham (UMD), with Shannon LaDeau (Cary Institute), Dawn Biehler (UMBC), and Guy Hager (Parks & People Foundation)), designed to investigate ways to improve local management of the invasive Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus) in Baltimore City.

Aedes albopictus. Credit: Public Health Image Library.

This research investigates how mosquito and other pest infestations and exposure varies with physical and socio-ecological characteristics of neighborhoods. Research integrates ecological, environmental justice, and education theory to assess how symptoms of urban decay (e.g., empty buildings, unmanaged lots, garbage, etc.) may be both a mechanistic cause and unintended result of increased pest exposure, especially in lower socio-economic neighborhoods.

Fairly typical block across many low-income Baltimore neighborhoods. Abandoned homes (damaged roof) stand in line with occupied homes and the reclaimed and vegetated lots (top left). Credit: Google Earth.

This work is funded by NSF- Coupled Natural Human Systems and includes collaborators Paul Leisnham (UMD), Dawn Biehler (UMBC), Sacoby Wilson (UMD), and Rebecca Jordan (Rutgers).

[NSF Coupled Natural Human Systems: Urban disamenities and pests: Coupled dynamics of urban mosquito ecology and human activities across socio-economically diverse communities (Sept. 2012 - August 2016).]