UF/IFAS expert to help Australians try to control diseases transmitted by invasive mosquitoes

LOUNIBOS 020915

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A University of Florida scientist recognized as a global expert on invasive mosquitoes will head to Australia in March to work with researchers to combat public health threats common to Florida and Queensland, Australia, such as chikungunya and dengue fever.

Phil Lounibos, an entomology professor at UF/IFAS’ Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach, has been awarded a Fulbright Specialist grant to give a series of lectures and to host seminars Down Under.

The mosquitoes that transmit chikungunya and dengue fever to humans are Aedes aegypti – sometimes referred to as the yellow fever mosquito ─ and Aedes albopictussometimes called the Asian tiger mosquito. Aedes aegypti, native to Africa, has lived in eastern Australia for more than 150 years, after arriving on sailing vessels, but is becoming less of a public health threat in parts of Queensland thanks to a novel experimental control method.

Aedes albopictus successfully colonized Florida more than 30 years ago but has not yet established itself in mainland Australia. Lounibos, a leading expert on the ecology of these two mosquito species, will bring his research-based knowledge, which has helped explain how the Asian tiger reduced the range and abundance of the yellow fever mosquito in Florida.

“We hope collaboration and knowledge from studying interactions between these species in Florida will help Australian scientists limit consequences from a feared invasion by the Asian Tiger Mosquito from the Torres Strait,” he said. The Torres Strait lies between mainland Australia and New Guinea.

The program will also benefit Florida, where several mosquito control districts are considering releasing genetically modified yellow fever mosquitoes for dengue prevention. The Eliminate Dengue Program, based in Cairns, Australia, is pioneering a non-GMO genetic control technique that causes mosquitoes of this species to become dengue-resistant by mating with released mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia, a type of bacteria.

Because of their extensive coastlines ─ which makes both areas vulnerable to the arrival of exotic animals and plants on boats and ships ─ Florida and Queensland, Australia are threatened by many invasive species, including the two mosquito species that transmit dengue and chikungunya.

In the past few years, the lay public and scientists have shifted their interest in mosquito ecology from salt marsh mosquitoes ─ major pests of the densely populated coasts of both regions ─ to invasive mosquito vectors of arboviruses, such as dengue and chikungunya.

Outbreaks of dengue fever occur regularly in northern Queensland and occasionally in South Florida, and the establishment of chikungunya in the Caribbean in late 2013 led to at least 10 cases of local transmission of this virus n Florida in 2014, Lounibos said.

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Cutline: UF/IFAS entomology professor Phil Lounibos checks for larvae of the invasive Aedes albopictus in water-holding tires used for surveillance on the grounds of the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory in Vero Beach.

Credit: UF/IFAS file photo by Marisol Amador

By Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Source: Phil Lounibos, 772-778-7200, ext. 146, lounibos@ufl.edu