Population genetic data suggest a role for mosquito-mediated dispersal of West Nile virus across the western United States

Meera Venkatesan, Jason L. Rasgon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


After introduction, West Nile virus (WNV) spread rapidly across the western United States between the years 2001 and 2004. This westward movement is thought to have been mediated by random dispersive movements of resident birds. Little attention has been placed on the role of mosquito vectors in virus dispersal across North America. The mosquito vector largely responsible for WNV amplification and transmission of WNV in the western USA is Culex tarsalis. Here we present population genetic data that suggest a potential role for C. tarsalis in the dispersal of WNV across the western USA. Population genetic structure across the species range of C. tarsalis in the USA was characterized in 16 states using 12 microsatellite loci. structure and geneland analyses indicated the presence of three broad population clusters. Barriers to gene flow were resolved near the Sonoran desert in southern Arizona and between the eastern Rocky Mountains and High Plains plateau. Small genetic distances among populations within clusters indicated that gene flow was not obstructed over large portions of the West Coast and within the Great Plains region. Overall, gene flow in C. tarsalis appears to be extensive, potentially mediated by movement of mosquitoes among neighbouring populations and hindered in geographically limited parts of its range. The pattern of genetic clustering in C. tarsalis is congruent with the pattern of invasion of WNV across the western United States, raising the possibility that movement of this important vector may be involved in viral dispersal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1573-1584
Number of pages12
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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