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Geographic shifts in Aedes aegypti habitat suitability in Ecuador using larval surveillance data and ecological niche modeling: implications of climate change for public health vector control

By Catherine A. Lippi, Anna M. Stewart-Ibarra, M.E. Franklin Bajaña Loor, Jose E. Dueñas Zambrano, Nelson A. Espinoza Lopez, Jason K. Blackburn, Sadie J. Ryan

Posted 30 Aug 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/404293 (published DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0007322)

Arboviral disease transmission by Aedes mosquitoes poses a major challenge to public health systems in Ecuador, where constraints on health services and resource allocation call for spatially informed management decisions. Employing a unique dataset of larval occurrence records provided by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health, we used ecological niche models (ENMs) to estimate the current geographic distribution of Aedes aegypti in Ecuador, using mosquito presence as a proxy for risk of disease transmission. ENMs built with the Genetic Algorithm for Rule-Set Production (GARP) algorithm and a suite of environmental variables were assessed for agreement and accuracy. The top model of larval mosquito presence was projected to the year 2050 under various combinations of greenhouse gas emissions scenarios and models of climate change. Under current climatic conditions, larval mosquitoes were not predicted in areas of high elevation in Ecuador, such as the Andes mountain range, as well as the eastern portion of the Amazon basin. However, all models projected to scenarios of future climate change demonstrated potential shifts in mosquito distribution, wherein range contractions were seen throughout most of eastern Ecuador, and areas of transitional elevation became suitable for mosquito presence. Encroachment of Ae. aegypti into mountainous terrain was estimated to affect up to 4,215 km2 under the most extreme scenario of climate change, an area which would put over 12,000 people currently living in transitional areas at risk. This distributional shift into communities at higher elevations indicates an area of concern for public health agencies, as targeted interventions may be needed to protect vulnerable populations with limited prior exposure to mosquito-borne diseases. Ultimately, the results of this study serve as a tool for informing public health policy and mosquito abatement strategies in Ecuador.

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