Ecology of container mosquitoes
A multitude of animal and human diseases are vectored by adult mosquitoes, the larvae of which inhabit aquatic containers (e.g., tree holes, discarded automobile tires). Beyond their medical importance, mosquitoes also are an ideal model animal for testing ecological theories related to community organization, population dynamics, and invasion biology. Here is a brief sample of the questions we are actively attempting to answer.
Cities are an ideal location to study the interactions of human and mosquito interactions, given that cities exist around the world, and often are home to highly anthropophilic species of mosquitoes, which are a main cause of human misery and death. We’ve been focused on mosquitoes in San Juan, Puerto Rico, since 2016, and in that time have completed a number of projects meant to elucidate how vector populations are shaped by human forces. Some of the questions we have asked include:
How do mosquito communities vary with socioeconomic factors, like income or human population density?
How do mosquito blood meal hosts vary with land use and neighborhood factors?
How do species composition change across urban-rural gradients, with regard to nutrient inputs?
How do disturbances, like hurricanes and flooding, affect mosquito populations and their nutrient signature?
Nutrient stoichiometry of mosquitoes
The most recent area of research in my lab involves nutrient stoichiometry of container mosquitoes. Stoichiometry (variation in carbon (C) and nitrogen (N)) is can be affected by a variety of different ecological effects, and also has the possibility to help us understand disease transmission. As C and N are crucial to the composition of adult mosquitoes and are shaped by processes at the larval stage, understanding of stoichiomety offers us an exciting tool to better understand their ecology and potentially disease.
How do different feeding patterns affect stoichiometry?
How does competition affect stoichiometry?
What is the effect of variation in diet on the stoichiometry of mosquitoes and how does those effects determine vial load?
What is the influence of local variation in detrital inputs on the stoichiometry of mosquitoes?
Phenotypic plasticity and climate change
Like all insects, mosquitoes can vary some of their developmental processes in response to different abiotic conditions. We have been working to understand this plasticity in response to a number of factors, including the effects of elevated temperature, on Aedes albopictus.
How does temperature affect the size-development time trade-off in Ae. albopictus?
What are the population level consequences for different responses?
How are adult and larval life-history stages affected by the same abiotic parameters and how does that linkage affect population dynamics?
Detritus and Nutrients
Container systems are supported by external inputs of energy, usually in the form of leaf litter and dead insects. These types of energy vary in their quantity and quality, and thus have different effects on mosquito populations.
How do different detritus types affect mosquito performance?
What are the patterns of inputs of organic detritus into different container types?
How does detritus affect community and population dynamics of mosquitoes?
To what extent do isotopes of carbon and nitrogen indicate the source of larval nutrition in containers?
How is nutrient limitation in containers related to performance of different mosquito species?
Habitat Matrix and Community Dynamics
Are patterns of mosquitoes in containers responding to variation in the larval environment or the surrounding terrestrial matrix?
To what degree do other taxa influence patterns of mosquito communities?
What are the ecological mechanisms that regulate richness of mosquitoes in containers?
What is the role of predation or other negative interactions in structuring mosquito communities?
How important is the link between different life cycle stages in mosquitoes?
Ecology of predaceous diving beetles (Coleoptera: Dytiscidae)
Dytiscids (“predaceous diving beetles”) are aquatic beetles consisting of about 4,000 species world-wide. Both the larvae and adults occur within slow-moving or stagnant bodies of water, and adults can disperse up to several thousand meters. Larvae (sometimes known as “Water Tigers”) and adults all are predacious, making them an important component of the aquatic food webs in which they occur. Even though these beetles are cosmopolitan and are likely important for the systems in which they reside, there is relatively little ecological knowledge about members of this group.
In the past, I have examined how dispersal in adult beetles is affected by habitat parameters and beetle densities, and how predation among larval dytiscids may be related to differences in larval behavior. We continue to examine aspects of dytiscid ecology, including questions related to dispersal, their effects on non-beetles including mosquitoes, and in understanding community dynamics.
Current projects are examining how habitat parameters affect dytiscid communities and species, and in understanding the mechanisms that promote coexistence among species. We also are interested in the role of multiple predators in affecting prey in temporary aquatic environments.