Ecological applications : a publication of the Ecological Society of America

Cascade of ecological consequences for West Nile virus transmission when aquatic macrophytes invade stormwater habitats.

PMID 27039521


Artificial aquatic habitats are ubiquitous in anthropogenic landscapes and highly susceptible to colonization by invasive plant species. Recent research into the ecology of infectious diseases indicates that the establishment of invasive plant species can trigger ecological cascades which alter the transmission dynamics of vector-borne pathogens that imperil human health. Here, we examined whether the presence or management of two invasive, emergent plants, cattails (Typha spp.) and phragmites (Phragmites australis), in stormwater dry detention basins (DDBs) alter the local distribution of vectors, avian hosts, or West Nile virus (WNV) transmission risk in an urban residential setting. Mosquitoes and birds were surveyed at 14 DDBs and paired adjacent residential sites. During the study period, emergent vegetation was mowed by site managers in three DDBs. In the absence of vegetation management, the overall abundance and species composition of both adult vectors and avian hosts differed between residential and DDB habitats; however, WNV entomological risk indices were equivalent. Communal bird roosts composed primarily of three species, European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), and Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula), representing a broad range of WNV reservoir competence, were observed at half (three out of six) of the DDBs containing unmanaged stands of phragmites; however, their presence was associated with a lower seasonal increase in vector infection rate. Conversely, mowing of emergent vegetation resulted in a significant and sustained increase in the abundance of WNV-infected vectors in DDBs and the increase in risk extended to adjacent residential sites. These findings indicate that management of invasive plants in DDBs during the growing season can increase, while presence of communal bird roosts can decrease, WNV transmission risk.