Mosquito-borne dengue virus (DENV) is maintained in a sylvatic, enzootic cycle of transmission between canopy-dwelling non-human primates and Aedes mosquitoes in Borneo. Sylvatic DENV can spill over into humans living in proximity to forest foci of transmission, in some cases resulting in severe dengue disease. The most likely vectors of such spillover (bridge vectors) in Borneo are Ae. albopictus and Ae. niveus. Borneo is currently experiencing extensive forest clearance. To gauge the effect of this change in forest cover on the likelihood of sylvatic DENV spillover, it is first necessary to characterize the distribution of bridge vectors in different land cover types. In the current study, we hypothesized that Ae. niveus and Ae. albopictus would show significantly different distributions in different land cover types; specifically, we predicted that Ae. niveus would be most abundant in forests whereas Ae. albopictus would have a more even distribution in the landscape.
Mosquitoes were collected from a total of 15 sites using gravid traps and a backpack aspirator around Kampong Puruh Karu, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, where sylvatic DENV spillover has been documented. A total of 2447 mosquitoes comprising 10 genera and 4 species of Aedes, were collected over the three years, 2013, 2014 and 2016, in the three major land cover types in the area, homestead, agriculture and forest. Mosquitoes were identified morphologically, pooled by species and gender, homogenized, and subject to DNA barcoding of each Aedes species and to arbovirus screening. As predicted, Ae. niveus was found almost exclusively in forests whereas Ae. albopictus was collected in all land cover types. Aedes albopictus was significantly (P = 0.04) more abundant in agricultural fields than forests. Sylvatic DENV was not detected in any Aedes mosquito pools, however genomes of 14 viruses were detected using next generation sequencing.
Land cover type affects the abundance and distribution of the most likely bridge vectors of sylvatic DENV in Malaysia Borneo. Conversion of forests to agriculture will likely decrease the range and abundance of Ae. niveus but enhance the abundance of Ae. albopictus.