A mosquito bite can be a mild irritation or the beginning of sickness. Almost 700 million people contract a mosquito-borne illness every year, resulting in more than a million deaths1. While modern medicine continues to discover solutions to these disease vectors, where and how we interact with mosquitos has become complicated by another earthly problem, climate change.
Climate change is altering not only the biodiversity of our world, but also when and where we interact with other animals. As climatic variables shift, the species that best match a place’s environmental conditions shift as well. While in some cases changes in resident species is not very impactful, in others it can have profound effects not only on those species but on people as well. Such is the case with mosquitos.
Scientists from the University of Florida and the Ministry of Health in Ecuador used computer simulations and existing data on mosquito habitat range and temperature preferences to study mosquito populations in the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. They examined how their habitat range may change by the year 2050 due to increased greenhouse gasses. As temperatures warm, the mosquito niche expands to higher and higher elevations, making previously inhospitable parts of the mountain range a decent place for them to live. The scientists found that this greater habitable elevation range for mosquito populations may put 12,000 people currently living in those areas at risk.
Fortunately, these projections allow us to prepare ahead of time. As we continue to unravel the complexities climate change brings, modeling endeavors such as this are critical for helping inform public health policy and safety in the near and far future.