BACKGROUND:West Nile virus (WNV) is a mosquito-borne virus that is mainly transmitted among birds by Culex pipiens mosquitoes. The species Cx. pipiens consists of two biotypes named pipiens and molestus, which together can form h ybrids. One of the major distinctions between the biotypes is their overwintering behaviour. Adults of biotype pipiens diapause during winter, whereas biotype molestus remains actively blood-feeding. Diapausing may affect survival and vector competence of biotype pipiens. The aims of this study were therefore to identify the biotype composition of diapausing Cx. pipiens mosquitoes, to quantify survival throughout the autumn and winter months, and to determine effects of overwintering on vector competence of emerging Cx. pipiens mosquitoes for WNV.
METHODS: Diapausing mosquitoes were collected at two typical overwintering locations in the Netherlands. A selection of Cx. pipiens mosquitoes was identified to biotype using real-time PCR. Survival of diapausing Cx. pipiens mosquitoes during autumn and winter was monitored by placing cages with either field-collected or laboratory-reared females in houses and sheds. Vector competence of field-collected (diapausing) and laboratory-reared (non-diapausing) Cx. pipiens mosquitoes was determined to gain insight in the effect of overwintering on WNV transmission.
RESULTS: The majority (92%) of diapausing Cx. pipiens females were identified as biotype pipiens. More than 70% of diapausing Cx. pipiens mosquitoes was able to survive for more than four months in sheds, whereas diapausing in houses resulted in 100% mortality in that same period. In contrast, non-diapausing Cx. pipiens biotype pipiens mosquitoes reared in the laboratory died within a week in both houses and sheds. Vector competence of Cx. pipiens mosquitoes that had diapaused during the autumn and winter months was comparable to non-diapausing laboratory-reared mosquitoes.
CONCLUSIONS: This study confirms that the majority of Cx. pipiens mosquitoes in their typical overwintering site belongs to the pipiens biotype. It shows that more than two-third of diapausing Cx. pipiens mosquitoes is able to survive winter under sheltered winter conditions. Finally, vector competence for WNV of mosquitoes that emerge from overwintering sites is not affected by their relatively old age.