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Invasive plants as foci of mosquito-borne pathogens: Red cedar in the southern Great Plains of the USA

Noden, Bruce H.
Cote, Noel M.
Reiskind, Michael H.
Talley, Justin L.
West Nile virus (WNV) is the most significant mosquito-borne disease affecting humans in the United States. Eastern redcedar (ERC) is a native encroaching plant in the southern Great Plains that greatly alters abiotic conditions and bird and mosquito populations. This study tested the hypotheses that mosquito communities and their likelihood of WNV infection differ between ERC and other habitats in the southern Great Plains of the United States. We found support for our first hypothesis, with significantly more Culex tarsalis and Culex erraticus in ERC than deciduous and grass habitats. Mosquito communities in Central Oklahoma were more diverse (21 species) than western Oklahoma (11 species) but this difference was not associated with vegetation. Our second hypothesis was also supported, with significantly more WNV-infected Culex from ERC in both regions, as was our third hypothesis, with significantly more Culex tarsalis and Culex pipiens collected in ERC than other habitats in urban areas. The connection of mosquito-borne disease with invasive plants suggests that land management initiatives can affect human health and should be considered in light of public health impact. Evidence from other vector-borne disease suggests invasive plants, both in the Great Plains and globally, may facilitate the transmission of vector-borne pathogens.