Nutrient-rich water is heaven for disease-spreading mosquitoes


Photo credit: Leiden University

When mosquito eggs hatch in nutrient-rich water, the mosquitoes are larger and can also fly farther. This is the first conclusion of a study by the Dutch Center for Health (NCOH) by PhD student Sam Boerlijst.

Boerlijst (Institute for Environmental Sciences) was working in a field laboratory with ponds full of mosquitoes on a study of the development of mosquitoes under different conditions. “There aren’t enough natural predators in nutrient-rich water. And mosquitoes also grow faster when the water warms up.”

His study is part of a larger vector disease spread program. Vectors here are animals that can transmit diseases. The West Nile virus was found in Utrecht in a kind of warbler, a white throat, in Utrecht and in people in the Utrecht and Arnhem areas. Mosquitoes can transmit not only this virus but others as well. For example, malaria, another mosquito-borne disease, was still widespread in the Netherlands in 1945-1955.

Boerlijst and his colleagues are investigating whether globalization and climate change, but also changes that people make in landscapes, make the transmission of diseases more likely. His research is supervised by Eline Boelee, a water and health expert at the Deltares Research Institute. Boelee: “We are NCOH partners in the One Health PACT research program, which deals with communicable diseases of this type in the Netherlands. Boerlijst’s study focuses on the development of mosquitoes in and around water. This is important knowledge for our institute especially in view of our worldwide commitment to water and planning issues. “

A higher water temperature affects the growth rate, but not the size and flight capacity of mosquitoes. When the water quality is poor and there are no natural predators, the mosquitoes are bigger and can fly farther: the dirtier the water, the bigger the mosquitoes. The ecologists involved in the program are now also investigating how this works outside of the field laboratory so that validated data can be used in a predictive model. Ecologists, virologists and programmers therefore work closely together on the One Health PACT program. “Our model will soon predict whether certain areas are at a higher risk of mosquito-borne disease, which will likely make it possible to prevent or mitigate the risk,” says Boerlijst.

It will take a while to get to this stage. The mosquito model should be ready in four to five years. Boerlijst is currently working on a first publication of his study.

Video: Can coronavirus be transmitted by mosquitoes? Provided by the University of Leiden

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