SEES Mosquito Mapper intern in the field, setting mosquito traps. Photo credit: Clara U.
Something that has fascinated me in the research I have done so far is the vast impact that human activity has on the distribution of mosquito communities. Globalization and human travel are thought to be responsible for introducing many mosquito-borne diseases to unlikely areas, for example, spreading the Culex tarsalis, a vector of western equine encephalitis, to Washington State. Artificial habitats that foster mosquito breeding can develop in abandoned tires, plastic containers, and other debris that collect rainwater. These artificial habitats became widespread as a result of urban and agricultural development, allowing mosquitoes to move to urban areas in arid environments like cities in southern California. Other human actions also greatly impact the spread of mosquitoes. A recent study found that mosquitoes develop faster and in greater numbers when fertilizer is present because the ingredients in most fertilizers– nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium– enhance the development of biomass, which mosquitoes depend on. The increasing misuse of pesticides and fertilizers in the agricultural sector therefore generates, “ecological systems beneficial to the proliferation of mosquitoes,” (Darriet 2017). For me, it is eye-opening to discover to what extent human activity has inadvertently helped mosquito species spread and breed in environments they normally would not thrive in. It’s certainly a more complicated picture than what I had expected.
In collaborative science like this, I believe that focusing on different aspects of an overarching topic is very valuable, as specialized research can be combined to make more accurate conclusions. Researching solely the hard science behind mosquito disease vectors is useful, but without an understanding of human interaction and the history of disease spread, we cannot work effectively with governments and communities to make informed policy changes. Understanding every side of the issue is vital.
The experiment I am conducting is inspired by my newly acquired knowledge and will test which kind of organic material is most effective in attracting mosquitoes. After loading traps with five different baits– blood meal fertilizer, chicken manure, grass clippings, leaves, and algae– and keeping one control, I placed each trap in a shady area of my yard. My goal is to discover if certain organic material is more attractive to mosquitoes than others and just how much of a difference fertilizer really makes. Some further steps I plan to take are to compare different kinds of fertilizers or different sizes and shapes of trap containers which can give me an understanding of how mosquitoes choose their breeding grounds in agricultural and urban environments specifically.
What’s incredible about this project is that we have contact with scientists currently in the field, including those who developed the GLOBE Observer Mosquito Habitat Mapper app that we use. We can count on them for thorough explanations to our questions and feedback on our experiments. And not only do these seasoned scientists bring forth interesting ideas that we hadn’t thought to consider, but we, the students, occasionally catch onto something that they overlook. With an exchange of ideas between such a diverse group– people with varying experience, perspectives, and thought processes– we are sure to generate some insightful results together. For me, this project is exciting and empowering because it feels like the research I’m doing is making a real impact on an issue that is so pertinent today. That's the beauty of collaborative citizen science; each individual’s small contributions combine into something very powerful.
Initially, I was hesitant to join this research project because I am not extremely interested in biology, entomology, and epidemiology. However, since I enjoy doing research, I accepted the challenge and am very glad that I did so. Upon delving into the project, I found that I could tailor my specific research to what I’m most interested: the ecological, historical, and social aspects of the mosquito story.
Darriet, F. (2017) Synergistic effect of fertilizer and plant material combinations on the development of Aedes aegypti (Diptera: Culicidae) and Anopheles gambiae (Diptera: Culicidae) Mosquitoes. OUP Academic, Oxford University Press. Retrieved from: academic.oup.com/jme/article-abstract/55/2/496/4753693?redirectedFrom=fulltext.
Clara U. is a high school student from Washington State, who is working on a research project this summer using the GLOBE Observer Mosquito Habitat Mapper. Her virtual internship is part of a collaboration between GLOBE Mission Mosquito and the NASA Texas Space Grant Consortium (TSGC) to extend the TSGC Summer Enhancement in Earth Science (SEES) internship for U.S. high school (http://www.tsgc.utexas.edu/sees-internship/). She shares her experience so far this summer in this guest blog post.