Background: Extensive work has shown that vectors almost never feed at random. Often, a subset of individual hosts and host species are fed on much more frequently than expected from their abundance and this can amplify pathogen transmission. However, the drivers of variation in contact patterns between vectors and their hosts are not well understood, even in relatively well-studied systems such as West Nile virus (WNV).
Methods: We compared roosting height and roost aggregation size of seven avian host species of WNV with patterns of host-seeking mosquito (Culex pipiens) abundance at communal and non-communal roost sites.
Results: First, host-seeking mosquito abundance increased with height and paralleled increased mosquito feeding preferences on species roosting higher in the tree canopy. Second, there were several hundred-fold fewer mosquitoes per bird trapped at American robin (Turdus migratorius) communal roosts compared to non-communal roost sites, which could reduce transmission from and to this key amplifying host species. Third, seasonal changes in communal roost formation may partly explain observed seasonal changes in mosquito feeding patterns, including a decrease in feeding on communal roosting robins.
Conclusions: These results illustrate how variation in habitat use by hosts and vectors and social aggregation by hosts influence vector-host interactions and link the behavioral ecology of birds and the transmission of vector-borne diseases to humans.
PUBLICATION AVAILABLE AT: http://doi.org/10.1186/1756-3305-7-399