Mosquitoes provide a model system for studying complex ecological interactions and vector-borne disease transmission. Scientists have developed models that are used to predict patterns of disease transmission across space and time to better understand the dynamics of arthropod-borne disease. Several parameters in these models include population growth, population size, adult size, adult longevity and blood-feeding behavior. These traits of the mosquitoes are not fixed and often fluctuate with a changing environment.
Katie Costanzo, PhD, assistant professor in the Biology Department, is currently researching how interactions of mosquitoes with various factors of their environment may alter these traits. To date, she has investigated the impacts of competition, predation, parasitism, precipitation and photoperiod on such traits. These studies provide information on how disease transmission by these vectors may fluctuate spatially and temporally in variable environments.
Currently, Costanzo’s lab is studying the Asian tiger mosquito, Aedes albopictus. This species is native to Asia and India but has been successfully introduced to nearly every continent throughout the world, including the United States. Furthermore, this species is an important vector of several arboviruses including dengue, chikungunya and is a potential vector for the emergent Zika virus. Costanzo aims to determine how parameters in disease transmission models may vary in this mosquito and what factors cause these variations. Models that estimate the efficiency of a disease transmission by a vector often include estimates of population growth, based on the assumption that a female’s size predicts the number of offspring she produces. To date, there are no studies investigating variations in the relationship of size to the number of offspring in this species.
Alongside the Tyson Research Center at Washington University of St. Louis, Costanzo’s lab currently runs a series of laboratory experiments to determine if there are genetic and environmental factors that lead to variation in the relationship between size and number of offspring in Aedes albopictus. Costanzo currently works with nine Canisius undergraduate students on these experiments, which will continue this summer and next fall.
Submitted by: Sara Morris, PhD, associate vice president, academic affairs