Harnessing citizen science to tackle mosquito-borne diseases

Human mobility and globalization have brought new invasive species to other countries. In terms of environment and nature, some of these new species can negatively affect ecosystems and the autochthonous biodiversity; however, the problem arises when this concerns new species that can transmit diseases to humans, such as some mosquitoes. In Spain, the tiger mosquito has been spreading along the Eastern coast and increasingly further inland since 2004 [1]. Meanwhile, the yellow fever mosquito has colonized territories close to Spain, such as the island of Madeira.

In urban areas, both the tiger and yellow fever mosquitoes breed in small containers with stagnant water. They’re a daily nuisance, decreasing citizens’ quality of life during summer, but more importantly they can also transmit diseases including dengue fever, chikungunya and Zika, which are not endemic in Spain. To prevent such transmission, it is crucial to raise awareness across the population – not only to mitigate potential breeding sites in private areas but also to monitor the species with the aim of reducing numbers in the areas where they are established and to minimize their spread to new regions.

Tiger Mosquito (Aedes albopictus). Jorge Mederos (CC-BY).

Nevertheless, controlling the tiger mosquito in Spain is not an easy task – the insect is found in cities from small to large, where it breeds in every small place containing stagnant water, from small flowerpots to fountains in gardens. In general, other disease-carrying mosquito species are concentrated in wetlands and natural areas, meaning it is easier to implement both biological control and chemical treatments. The management of the tiger mosquito, however, is complicated. Firstly, because the species is prominently urban, and in developed countries this type of habitat is where the bulk of the human population resides. Secondly, this type of habitat is widespread, so the species is not confined in one particular area.

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