New Research May Help Protect People and Birds from Mosquitoes

Posted on Feb 23, 2017 in News, slider

Hawaii has no indigenous mosquito species, and none were present in Hawaii until the accidental introduction of Culex quinquefaciatus by ship in 1826. Since then eight species of mosquito have become established in Hawaii. According to the Hawaii Department of Health, only six of these species interact with humans and wildlife, but the impacts they have can be severe. Mosquitoes provide a pathway for the introduction and spread of a variety of vector-borne diseases. Of particular concern to Hawaii are the following diseases, all vectored by mosquitoes:

  • Dengue fever, vectored by Aedes mosquitoes
  • Zika, vectored by Aedes mosquitoes
  • Chikungunya, vectored by Aedes mosquitoes
  • Yellow fever, vectored by Aedes mosquitoes
  • West Nile Virus, primarily vectored by C. quiquefasciatus
  • Avian malaria, primarily vectored by C. quinquefasciatus

There are many other mosquitoes not currently present in Hawaii that could increase risk for disease transmission if they became established. Malaria, for example, is vectored by mosquitoes in the Anopheles genus, which is not established in Hawaii. A single individual of Anopheles punctipennis was, however, intercepted on Oahu in 2003.

The recent International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress (WCC) generated a number of discussions relating to mosquito impacts on both human and wildlife health, and options for landscape-scale control of mosquitoes. A workshop organized by the Hawaii Exemplary State Foundation was held on Hawaii Island in September 2016 and produced a summary report describing various landscape-scale techniques

Experts at the University of Hawaii, the Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Department of Health, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among others, have begun identifying safe mosquito control technologies that could be implemented in Hawaii. At a January 2017 meeting of the Hawaii Invasive Species Council, the HISC adopted Resolution 17-2, supporting research and evaluation of landscape-scale control technologies for mosquitoes, and encouraging researchers to approach this research in a way that could potentially benefit both native wildlife and human health in Hawaii.

One research project on mosquito control technologies is already underway. To protect Hawaiʻi’s unique, imperiled native birds, researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi are teaming up with the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to adapt a ‘birth control’ method that could be used to control mosquitos. Mosquitos are a nuisance and a hazard both to people and to Hawaii’s native birds, which are in danger of extinction from decades of habitat loss, predation and diseases like avian malaria and avian pox. 

In the video below, UH researcher Floyd Reed describes his approach to exploring Incompatible Insect Technique, which uses a naturally-occuring bacterium called Wolbachia. If Dr. Reed’s research provides positive results, it could be used in the future to safely reduce mosquito populations in Hawaii, thereby reducing the potential for transmission of avian malaria.

Mosquito Control VNR from Hawaii DLNR on Vimeo.