Pockets and Pathways to Invasion: Developing Improved Mosquito Monitoring in High Elevation Forests on Hawaiʻi Island

Mladinich, Stephanie K.
Hart, Patrick J.
Tropical Conservation Biology & Environmental Science
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A diverse and globally prevalent disease, avian malaria (Plasmodium relictum Grassi and Feletti) is transmitted by the introduced southern house mosquito, Culex quinquefasciatus Say (Diptera: Culicidae) and is the primary driver of rapidly declining populations and extinctions of native Hawaiian forest birds. The urgency and severity of the threat to native Hawaiian forest birds has served as the impetus for studies to understand the dynamic context of the invasion and establishment of mosquito populations and disease transmission into increasingly higher elevations in the context of climate change. In recent years, the focus has shifted from documenting the invasion of mosquitoes and the decline of the bird populations, to implementing solutions that have the potential to safeguard the birds from further decline and extinction, such as landscape-level mosquito control. However, in order to effectively implement these solutions, robust and detailed mosquito surveillance data is needed, particularly in high elevation forests. My thesis research leveraged conventional mosquito monitoring methods alongside climate monitoring and innovative environmental DNA techniques to enhance mosquito monitoring in remote sites across the Hawaiian Islands. In my first chapter, I explored a three-tier, low-cost, continuous surveillance approach for monitoring adult mosquito populations, feral pig-created larval mosquito habitat, and climate suitability conditions for the invasion and establishment of the avian malaria vector, C. quinquefasciatus, in two high elevation forests on Hawaiʻi Island. I found little evidence of invasion by C. quinquefasiatus at either site, despite suitable climate conditions for both vector and parasite development present over half of the year, alongside variable larval habitat between fenced and unfenced sites. In my second chapter, I developed an environmental DNA assay that targets the cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI) gene for the detection of C. quinquefasciatus in aquatic larval habitat. I found the primer-probe set to be highly efficient in the detection of known presence of C. quinquefasciatus from lab samples and performed the foundational steps for the assay to be tested in a field setting as a tool for detection. My work emphasizes the importance of continuous monitoring and contributes to the continued enhancement of reliable and rigorous methods for monitoring the spatial and temporal distribution and abundance of mosquito populations, along with environmental conditions for population establishment that are critical for vector and disease management.
Ecology, Climate change, Conservation biology, Cibotium spp., Climate change, Culex quinquefasciatus, Gravid Aedes Trap (GAT), Larval habitat, Plasmodium relictum
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