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In Parasites & vectors ; h5-index 57.0

BACKGROUND : Effectively controlling heartworm disease-a major parasitic disease threatening animal health in the US and globally-requires understanding the local ecology of mosquito vectors involved in transmission. However, the key vector species in a given region are often unknown and challenging to identify. Here we investigate (i) the key vector species associated with transmission of the parasite, Dirofilaria immitis, in California and (ii) the climate and land cover drivers of vector presence.

METHODS : To identify key mosquito vectors involved in transmission, we incorporated long-term, finely resolved mosquito surveillance data and dog heartworm case data in a statistical modeling approach (fixed-effects regression) that rigorously controls for other unobserved drivers of heartworm cases. We then used a flexible machine learning approach (gradient boosted machines) to identify the climate and land cover variables associated with the presence of each species.

RESULTS : We found significant, regionally specific, positive associations between dog heartworm cases and the abundance of four vector species: Aedes aegypti (Central California), Ae. albopictus (Southern California), Ae. sierrensis (Central California), and Culiseta incidens (Northern and Central California). The proportion of developed land cover was one of the most important ecological variables predicting the presence or absence of the putative vector species.

CONCLUSION : Our results implicate three previously under-recognized vectors of dog heartworm transmission in California and indicate the land cover types in which each putative vector species is commonly found. Efforts to target these species could prioritize surveillance in these land cover types (e.g. near human dwellings in less urbanized settings for Ae. albopictus and Cs. incidens) but further investigation on the natural infection prevalence and host-biting rates of these species, as well as the other local vectors, is needed.

Couper Lisa I, Mordecai Erin A


Climate, Disease ecology, Heartworm, Land cover, Mosquito, Transmission, Vector