Local introduction and heterogeneous spatial spread of dengue-suppressing Wolbachia through an urban population of Aedes aegypti

Tom L. Schmidt, Nicholas H. Barton, Gordana Rašić, Andrew P. Turley, Brian L. Montgomery, Inaki Iturbe-Ormaetxe, Peter E. Cook, Peter A. Ryan, Scott A. Ritchie, Ary A. Hoffmann, Scott L. O’Neill, Michael Turelli

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Dengue-suppressing Wolbachia strains are promising tools for arbovirus control, particularly as they have the potential to self-spread following local introductions. To test this, we followed the frequency of the transinfected Wolbachia strain wMel through Ae. aegypti in Cairns, Australia, following releases at 3 nonisolated locations within the city in early 2013. Spatial spread was analysed graphically using interpolation and by fitting a statistical model describing the position and width of the wave. For the larger 2 of the 3 releases (covering 0.97 km2and 0.52 km2), we observed slow but steady spatial spread, at about 100–200 m per year, roughly consistent with theoretical predictions. In contrast, the smallest release (0.11 km2) produced erratic temporal and spatial dynamics, with little evidence of spread after 2 years. This is consistent with the prediction concerning fitness-decreasing Wolbachia transinfections that a minimum release area is needed to achieve stable local establishment and spread in continuous habitats. Our graphical and likelihood analyses produced broadly consistent estimates of wave speed and wave width. Spread at all sites was spatially heterogeneous, suggesting that environmental heterogeneity will affect large-scale Wolbachia transformations of urban mosquito populations. The persistence and spread of Wolbachia in release areas meeting minimum area requirements indicates the promise of successful large-scale population transformation.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2001894
Number of pages28
JournalPLoS Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2017

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