Growing mosquito populations linked to urbanization and DDT's slow decay

December 06, 2016

Mosquito populations have increased as much as ten-fold over the past five decades in New York, New Jersey, and California, according to long-term datasets from mosquito monitoring programs. The number of mosquito species in these areas increased two- to four-fold in the same period.

A new study finds the main drivers of these changes were the gradual waning of DDT concentrations in the environment and increased urbanization. The findings were published December 6 in Nature Communications.

The potential effects of climate change on the spread of insect-borne diseases is a major public health concern, but this study found little evidence that mosquito populations in these areas were responding to changes in temperature or precipitation.

"At first glance, recent increases in mosquito populations appear to be linked to rising temperatures from climate change, but careful analyses of data over the past century show that it's actually recovery from the effects of DDT," said corresponding author Marm Kilpatrick, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz.

Kilpatrick explained that the effects of climate change are expected to be seen at the edges of species' geographic ranges, as species adapted to warm climates move further north and cold-adapted species retreat from the southern parts of their ranges. So a tropical species like Aedes aegypti, which transmits Zika, dengue, and other human diseases, could expand its range northward in the United States as temperatures warm.

"On the cold edge of a species' distribution, temperature matters a lot. In Washington D.C., for example, where Aedes aegypti is not common now, it might become more common if the winters get milder. Whereas in Florida, urbanization and mosquito control efforts are more likely to be the dominant drivers of mosquito populations," Kilpatrick said.

Urbanization is an important factor because it changes the species composition in an area, favoring the types of mosquitoes that live near and feed on people, such as Aedes aegypti, and causing other species to decline, such as those adapted to wetlands and other natural habitats.

Mosquito control programs continue to help limit mosquito populations in many areas, but currently available techniques are not nearly as effective as DDT was, Kilpatrick said. "Everyone knew DDT was an extremely effective insecticide, but I was surprised by how long-lasting its effects were. In some areas, it took 30 to 40 years for mosquito populations to recover," he said.

More than a billion pounds (600 million kilograms) of DDT were used in the United States from the 1940s through the early 1970s. Its use was curtailed in the 1960s and finally banned in the United States in 1972 because of adverse environmental effects, especially on birds and other wildlife, as well as potential human health risks. Yet DDT was still detectable in soil cores as recently as 2000 in New York state, where DDT use was much higher than in New Jersey and California.

In all three regions, both mosquito abundance and the number of species decreased dramatically during the period of DDT use, then steadily increased as the amount of DDT in the environment declined. In New York, the researchers found, patterns of DDT use and its concentration in the environment could explain most of the long-term trends in mosquito populations. In New Jersey and California, however, the analyses showed that urbanization was also an important factor.

Average annual temperatures showed surprisingly little correlation with mosquito population trends. "Precipitation was more important than temperature, but land use was more important than either of those factors," Kilpatrick said. "The long-term impacts of land use changes on ecosystems are sometimes underappreciated."
-end-
The coauthors of the paper include Ilia Rochlin and Dominick Ninivaggi at Suffolk County Vector Control in New York; Ary Faraji at the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District; and Christopher Baker at UC Davis.

University of California - Santa Cruz

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.