Ecological Niche Modelling of Potential West Nile Virus Vector Mosquito Species and Their Geographical Association with Equine Epizootics in Italy
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- Mughini-Gras, L., Mulatti, P., Severini, F. et al. EcoHealth (2014) 11: 120. doi:10.1007/s10393-013-0878-7
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In Italy, West Nile virus (WNV) equine outbreaks have occurred annually since 2008. Characterizing WNV vector habitat requirements allows for the identification of areas at risk of viral amplification and transmission. Maxent-based ecological niche models were developed using literature records of 13 potential WNV Italian vector mosquito species to predict their habitat suitability range and to investigate possible geographical associations with WNV equine outbreak occurrence in Italy from 2008 to 2010. The contribution of different environmental variables to the niche models was also assessed. Suitable habitats for Culex pipiens, Aedes albopictus, and Anopheles maculipennis were widely distributed; Culex modestus, Ochlerotatus geniculatus, Ochlerotatus caspius, Coquillettidia richiardii, Aedes vexans, and Anopheles plumbeus were concentrated in north-central Italy; Aedes cinereus, Culex theileri, Ochlerotatus dorsalis, and Culiseta longiareolata were restricted to coastal/southern areas. Elevation, temperature, and precipitation variables showed the highest predictive power. Host population and landscape variables provided minor contributions. WNV equine outbreaks had a significantly higher probability to occur in habitats suitable for Cx. modestus and Cx. pipiens, providing circumstantial evidence that the potential distribution of these two species coincides geographically with the observed distribution of the disease in equines.