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Thermal thresholds heighten sensitivity of West Nile virus transmission to changing temperatures in coastal California

Abstract

Temperature is widely known to influence the spatio-temporal dynamics of vector-borne disease transmission, particularly as temperatures vary across critical thermal thresholds. When temperature conditions exhibit such ‘transcritical variation’, abrupt spatial or temporal discontinuities may result, generating sharp geographical or seasonal boundaries in transmission. Here, we develop a spatio-temporal machine learning algorithm to examine the implications of transcritical variation for West Nile virus (WNV) transmission in the Los Angeles metropolitan area (LA). Analysing a large vector and WNV surveillance dataset spanning 2006–2016, we found that mean temperatures in the previous month strongly predicted the probability of WNV presence in pools of Culex quinquefasciatus mosquitoes, forming distinctive inhibitory (10.0–21.0°C) and favourable (22.7–30.2°C) mean temperature ranges that bound a narrow 1.7°C transitional zone (21–22.7°C). Temperatures during the most intense months of WNV transmission (August/September) were more strongly associated with infection probability in Cx. quinquefasciatus pools in coastal LA, where temperature variation more frequently traversed the narrow transitional temperature range compared to warmer inland locations. This contributed to a pronounced expansion in the geographical distribution of human cases near the coast during warmer-than-average periods. Our findings suggest that transcritical variation may influence the sensitivity of transmission to climate warming, and that especially vulnerable locations may occur where present climatic fluctuations traverse critical temperature thresholds.

MIDAS Network Members

Jason Rohr

Ludmilla F., Stephen J., and Robert T. Galla College Professor of Biological Sciences
Department of Biological Sciences

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