Mosquitoes. Animals that every human being on the planet has likely come into contact with and experienced the wrath of.
With thousands of known mosquito species on the planet, and an ever growing number of mosquito vectors of disease, it is crucial to understand what the ecological drivers of growing mosquito populations are. Mosquito populations are driven by many factors, like climate, habitat preferences, feeding preferences, and olfactory stimuli. Therefore the evolution of mosquito-borne pathogen transmission dynamics is also very complex.
In our lab, we aim to understand the ecology and evolution of mosquito-borne pathogens along the Gulf Coast of the US, on the island of Madagascar, and through our laboratory model of mosquito-borne dirofilariasis to address the following questions:
- What attracts mosquito vectors to their reservoir hosts?
- How do host feeding preferences change across an altered landscape?
- How do communities of pathogens change in infected mosquitoes?
- In regions with high human-wildlife overlap, how does mosquito ecology change?
- What tools can be used to rapidly conduct surveillance of mosquito vectors and their pathogens?
Both of these regions are biodiversity hotspots where mosquito species (invasive and endemic) are exposed to dynamic host communities due to habitat degradation and land-use alteration, and where vectors of human and animal pathogens thrive. To understand the risks of mosquito-borne infections to humans and animals, we take an interdisciplinary approach to vector ecology in the hopes of making mosquito vector and pathogen surveillance broadly available, rapid, and reliable to improve vector control strategies and hence human and ecohealth.
Over 94% of Madagascar’s original forests have been lost due to slash-and-burn agricultural practices (also known as tavy). These land-use alterations can create ideal mosquito breeding habitats and increase exposure of Malagasy people and wildlife to mosquito-borne diseases. The goal of our mosquito research is to identify malaria and filariasis hotspots around the eastern rainforests of Ranomafana National Park, and identify risk factors that contribute to infection. In particular, we are working on projects that examine:
- The evolutionary history of lymphatic filariasis in Madagascar
- Mosquito-borne infections in lemurs and other wildlife
- The effect of land-use alternation on the ecology of mosquito-borne diseases and their vectors
- Can endemic wildlife (and conservation efforts) be used as a form of mosquito biocontrol?