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Geographic variation in the response of Culex pipiens life history traits to temperature.



Climate change is predicted to alter the transmission of many vector-borne pathogens. The quantitative impact of climate change is usually estimated by measuring the temperature-performance relationships for a single population of vectors, and then mapping this relationship across a range of temperatures or locations. However, life history traits of different populations often differ significantly. Specifically, performance across a range of temperatures is likely to vary due to local adaptation to temperature and other factors. This variation can cause spatial variation in pathogen transmission and will influence the impact of climate change on the transmission of vector-borne pathogens.


We quantified variation in life history traits for four populations of Culex pipiens (Linnaeus) mosquitoes. The populations were distributed along altitudinal and latitudinal gradients in the eastern United States that spanned ~3 °C in mean summer temperature, which is similar to the magnitude of global warming expected in the next 3-5 decades. We measured larval and adult survival, development rate, and biting rate at six temperatures between 16 and 35 °C, in a common garden experiment.


Temperature had strong and consistent non-linear effects on all four life history traits for all four populations. Adult female development time decreased monotonically with increasing temperature, with the largest decrease at cold temperatures. Daily juvenile and adult female survival also decreased with increasing temperature, but the largest decrease occurred at higher temperatures. There was significant among-population variation in the thermal response curves for the four life history traits across the four populations, with larval survival, adult survival, and development rate varying up to 45, 79, and 84 % among populations, respectively. However, variation was not correlated with local temperatures and thus did not support the local thermal adaptation hypothesis.


These results suggest that the impact of climate change on vector-borne disease will be more variable than previous predictions, and our data provide an estimate of this uncertainty. In addition, the variation among populations that we observed will shape the response of vectors to changing climates.

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