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Open Access Open Badges Research article

The costs of infection and resistance as determinants of West Nile virus susceptibility in Culex mosquitoes

Alexander T Ciota12, Linda M Styer13, Mark A Meola1 and Laura D Kramer123*

Author Affiliations

1 Wadsworth Center, New York State Dept. of Health. Slingerlands, NY, USA

2 Department of Biological Sciences, State University of New York, Albany, NY, USA

3 School of Public Health, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, NY, USA

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BMC Ecology 2011, 11:23  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-11-23

Published: 5 October 2011



Understanding the phenotypic consequences of interactions between arthropod-borne viruses (arboviruses) and their mosquito hosts has direct implications for predicting the evolution of these relationships and the potential for changes in epidemiological patterns. Although arboviruses are generally not highly pathogenic to mosquitoes, pathology has at times been noted. Here, in order to evaluate the potential costs of West Nile virus (WNV) infection and resistance in a primary WNV vector, and to assess the extent to which virus-vector relationships are species-specific, we performed fitness studies with and without WNV exposure using a highly susceptible Culex pipiens mosquito colony. Specifically, we measured and compared survival, fecundity, and feeding rates in bloodfed mosquitoes that were (i) infected following WNV exposure (susceptible), (ii) uninfected following WNV exposure (resistant), or (iii) unexposed.


In contrast to our previous findings with a relatively resistant Cx. tarsalis colony, WNV infection did not alter fecundity or blood-feeding behaviour of Cx. pipiens, yet results do indicate that resistance to infection is associated with a fitness cost in terms of mosquito survival.


The identification of species-specific differences provides an evolutionary explanation for variability in vector susceptibility to arboviruses and suggests that understanding the costs of infection and resistance are important factors in determining the potential competence of vector populations for arboviruses.