The case of the missing mosquito

Have you seen this mosquito? The Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, the notorious carrier of yellow fever, Chikungunya, Dengue and a known associate of the Zika virus, has disappeared from  Palmyra Atoll.

Asian tiger mosquito

Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus ©microbiologybytes/Flickr

The mosquito, that was accidentally introduced to the island along with other insects and rats,  used to be a  pest.  Yet, a recently published study reports that, despite extensive efforts to trap the insect by scientists, the mosquito seems to have disappeared from the island.

It appears that the Asian Tiger mosquito may have been a victim of its own diet.

In 2011 approximately 40 thousand rats were eradicated from the atoll by applying brodifacoum, a widely used pesticide.

In their paper, published in Biology Letters, the study authors hypothesise that this campaign against the rats may have accidentally caused the sudden disappearance of the Asian tiger mosquito.

“We believe that this is the first documented accidental secondary extinction of a mosquito,” said one of the study authors, Dr Hillary Young, an associate professor in University of California, Santa Barbara’s Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology. “We hypothesised that Aedes was eradicated from Palmyra primarily because its persistence depended on taking blood meals from rats.”

In sharp contrast the southern house mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus, that feeds mostly on seabirds, was abundant before and after rat eradication.

Dr Young explained: “Eradicating mosquitoes by eradicating a key host provides a relatively unexplored way to combat the diseases mosquitoes transmit. Our case study highlights this potential for synergies between public health and an increasingly common conservation intervention.”

Click here to see the original research paper.




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