Research Article: Simplification of vector communities during suburban succession

Date Published: May 1, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Meredith R. Spence Beaulieu, Kristen Hopperstad, Robert R. Dunn, Michael H. Reiskind, Paul T. Leisnham.


Suburbanization is happening rapidly on a global scale, resulting in changes to the species assemblages present in previously undeveloped areas of land. Community-level changes after anthropogenic land-use change have been studied in a variety of organisms, but the effects on arthropods of medical and veterinary importance remain poorly characterized. Shifts in diversity, abundance, and community composition of such arthropods, like mosquitoes, can significantly impact vector-borne disease dynamics due to varying vectorial capacity between different species. In light of these potential implications for vector-borne diseases, we investigated changes in mosquito species assemblage after suburbanization by sampling mosquitoes in neighborhoods of different ages in Wake County, North Carolina, US. We found that independent of housing density and socioeconomic status, mosquito diversity measures decreased as suburban neighborhoods aged. In the oldest neighborhoods, the mosquito assemblage reached a distinct suburban climax community dominated by the invasive, peridomestic container-breeding Aedes albopictus, the Asian tiger mosquito. Aedes albopictus is a competent vector of many pathogens of human concern, and its dominance in suburban areas places it in close proximity with humans, allowing for heightened potential of host-vector interactions. While further research is necessary to explicitly characterize the effects of mosquito community simplification on vector-borne disease transmission in highly suburbanized areas, the current study demonstrates that suburbanization is disrupting mosquito communities so severely that they do not recover their diversity even 100 years after the initial disturbance. Our understanding of the community-level effects of anthropogenic land-use change on arthropod vectors will become increasingly important as we look to mitigate disease spread in a global landscape that is continually developed and altered by humans.

Partial Text

The world is becoming increasingly urban. As recently as 1950, urban areas were occupied by just 30% of the world’s population. Today, 55% of people live in urban areas, with the proportion of people living in cities projected to be as high as 68% by 2050 [1]. In some regions, nearly all urban dwellers live in relatively high-density cities. But in others, a large proportion of human homes are at the margins of cities, in suburbs. Suburban development is the fastest growing anthropogenic land-use in the United States, expanding approximately seven- to ten-fold from 1950–2000 [2]. In line with national trends, this phenomenon is rapidly changing the southeastern United States, and models predict a continued growth in urban and suburban land-use of 101% to 192% over the next 50 years [3]. This land-use change due to anthropogenic development simultaneously disfavors species dependent on wild forests and grasslands, and favors species associated with urban areas, with suburban areas having the potential to act as an ecotone between urban and natural areas or to be completely distinct from natural areas. Among the species suburban and urban development may favor are arthropod species able to vector human pathogens [4].

The species accumulation curves appeared to reach an asymptote for both years, indicating that our trapping sites were adequate to sufficiently sample mosquitoes in this area (S2 Fig). In total, we trapped 22 species of mosquitoes (out of 28 known to be historically present in Wake County, NC [B. Byrd, personal communication, February 8, 2019]) and a total of more than 10,000 individuals. In 2015, we trapped a total of 20 species and 4269 individual mosquitoes, 47.1% of which were the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus, an invasive species in the U.S. Similar numbers were seen in 2016, with 19 total species and 5975 total individuals, 38.1% of which were our most commonly trapped species, Ae. albopictus.

In comparing suburban neighborhoods with wooded and field sites, we found that the oldest neighborhoods have mosquito communities that are less species rich, less even, and less diverse when compared with either of the natural habitats. This decline in all diversity metrics as suburban neighborhoods age is concordant with a shift in species assemblage to a seemingly distinct suburban assemblage. The suburban assemblage is well correlated with the presence of impervious surfaces like pavement and buildings. Dominant among this suburban mosquito assemblage is the invasive species Aedes albopictus, whose abundance is positively correlated with neighborhood age.




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