Fornasiero, D; Mazzucato, M; Barbujani, M; Montarsi, F; Capelli, G; Mulatti, P (2020). Inter-annual variability of the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic drivers affecting West Nile virus vector Culex pipiens population dynamics in northeastern Italy. PARASITES & VECTORS, 13(1), 271.

Background Vector-borne infectious diseases (VBDs) represent a major public health concern worldwide. Among VBDs, West Nile virus (WNV) showed an increasingly wider spread in temperate regions of Europe, including Italy. During the last decade, WNV outbreaks have been recurrently reported in mosquitoes, horses, wild birds, and humans, showing great variability in the temporal and spatial distribution pattern. Due to the complexity of the environment-host-vector-pathogen interaction and the incomplete understanding of the epidemiological pattern of the disease, WNV occurrences can be difficult to predict. The analyses of ecological drivers responsible for the earlier WNV reactivation and transmission are pivotal; in particular, variations in the vector population dynamics may represent a key point of the recent success of WNV and, more in general, of the VBDs. Methods We investigated the variations of Culex pipiens population abundance using environmental, climatic and trapping data obtained over nine years (2010 to 2018) through the WNV entomological surveillance programme implemented in northeastern Italy. An information theoretic approach (IT-AIC(c)) and model-averaging algorithms were implemented to examine the relationship between the seasonal mosquito population growth rates and both intrinsic (e.g. intraspecific competition) and extrinsic (e.g. environmental and climatic variables) predictors, to identify the most significant combinations of variables outlining the Cx. pipiens population dynamics. Results Population abundance (proxy for intraspecific competition) and length of daylight were the predominant factors regulating the mosquito population dynamics; however, other drivers encompassing environmental and climatic variables also had a significant impact, although sometimes counterintuitive and not univocal. The analyses of the single-year datasets, and the comparison with the results obtained from the overall model (all data available from 2010 to 2018), highlighted remarkable differences in coefficients magnitude, sign and significance. These outcomes indicate that different combinations of factors might have distinctive, and sometimes divergent, effects on mosquito population dynamics. Conclusions A more realistic acquaintance of the intrinsic and extrinsic mechanisms of mosquito population fluctuations in relation to continuous changes in environmental and climatic conditions is paramount to properly reinforce VBDs risk-based surveillance activities, to plan targeted density control measures and to implement effective early detection programmes.