Citizen Science on a continental scale
The Editor’s pick from the Feburary issue of The Canadian Entomologist is Crowdsourcing for large-scale mosquito (Diptera: Culicidae) sampling by Elin C. Maki and Lee W. Cohnstaedt. In this blog Lee Cohnstaedt reveals more about the research.
“We were inspired to carry out this study to find out the origin and historical geographic spread of the disease vector mosquito species Culex tarsalis and Aedes vexans. By collecting throughout the entire mosquito habitat range, we generated a snap-shot in time of the distribution of mosquito genes. However, collecting mosquitoes throughout the continental United States was not feasible for one lab. Therefore we used social networking and crowdsourcing to solicit specimens from public health officials, mosquito control experts, and citizen scientists. The response was incredible.
We hope a lasting impact of this project beyond advancing public health safety for humans and food security for agriculture, is demonstrating the importance and unique capabilities of the public health and mosquito control infrastructure in the United States. These agencies continually face budget cuts because their importance is undervalued. In addition to their public health roles, they contribute substantially to research which is an underappreciated role at improving public safety. This large-scale project would not be possible without the agencies volunteering their time, energy, and expertise. These agencies and individuals contributed to an unprecedented mosquito collection on a continental scale and we feel the North American Mosquito Project will continue to ask big questions with the help of network contributors in the future.
This research will lead to the mosquitos being used for three projects: First, the mosquito samples will be processed for population genetic and phylogenetic analysis to determine mosquito migration currently and historical spread. Second, the movement data from the genetics will be used to parameterize mathematical models to predict the spread of mosquito-borne exotic or emerging pathogens. This will improve public health safety and food security an important role of the agencies that contributed mosquitoes. Third, specific genes unique to certain populations (private alleles) will be examined to understand their role in range expansion.
Entomologists are very friendly people and we were amazed at how kind and helpful people were throughout the project. At least 25% of the network consisted of people we never contacted; other contributors contacted them and asked them to help. Similarly, some individuals collected from huge areas or contacted people to cover entire regions of the country. It makes us proud to be a part of the community and hopefully we can return the generosity with useful information.”
Image curtesy of Sarah Edwards.