Influence of season and meteorological parameters on flight activity of Culicoides biting midges.
Culicoides biting midges are vectors of internationally important arboviruses including bluetongue virus (BTV). The ecological constraints imposed by the small body size of these insects strongly influence the epidemiology of the diseases they can carry. Bluetongue virus recently emerged in northern Europe, and atmospheric dispersion models have subsequently been employed to simulate vector movement (and hence likely spread of BTV). The data underlying such models, however, have hitherto either been obtained from small-scale studies or from outside the north-western Palaearctic. The effects of seasonality and local meteorological conditions upon the daily presence and abundance of Culicoides vectors were examined using 2760 samples collected across a network of 12 different habitat types in England during 2008. Over 50 000 individuals were estimated to be in the samples with males constituting 62% of the total collection, allowing straightforward comparison between potential vector species in terms of their activity rates and seasonality. Culicoides abundance was linked to livestock density and land use. Farm-associated Culicoides species were recorded at all sites including species thought to be restricted to this ecosystem by larval habitat, suggesting a greater potential for dispersal over land than previously thought. Synthesis and applications. The model developed has already been applied in a functional dispersion model to predict disease risk from wind-borne infected Culicoides incursion into the UK and elsewhere. The study has expounded the long-distance dispersal potential of Culicoides, essential for future prediction of the incursion and spread of Culicoides-borne pathogens. It has additionally contributed to the understanding of the ecology of highly dispersive insect vectors.