Discovery and exploitation of a natural ecological trap for a mosquito disease vector

Allison M. Gardner, Ephantus J. Muturi, Brian F. Allan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ecological traps occur due to a mismatch between a habitat’s attractiveness and quality, wherein organisms show preference for low-quality habitats over other available high-quality habitats. Our previous research identified leaf litter from common blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis) as a natural ecological trap for an important vector for West Nile virus (Culex pipiens), attracting mosquitoes to oviposit in habitats deleterious to the survival of their larvae. Here we demonstrate that manipulation of leaf litter in stormwater catch basins, an important source of disease vector mosquitoes in urban environments, can increase Cx. pipiens oviposition but reduce survival. In a series of experiments designed to elucidate the mechanisms that explain the attractive and lethal properties of this native plant, behavioural bioassays suggest that oviposition site selection by Cx. pipiens is mediated primarily by chemical cues as leaves decompose. However, we also show that juvenile mosquito survival is mainly related to the suitability of the bacterial community in the aquatic habitat for mosquito nutritional needs, which does not appear to create a cue that influences oviposition choice. This mismatch between oviposition cues and drivers of larval habitat quality may account for the ecological trap phenomenon detected in this study. Our findings provide new insights into potential mechanistic pathways by which ecological traps may occur in nature and proof-of-concept for a new ‘attract-and-kill’ tool for mosquito control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20181962
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1891
StatePublished - Nov 21 2018


  • Culex pipiens
  • Ecological trap
  • Habitat selection
  • Integrated pest management

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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