Latitudinal diversity of biting midge species within the Obsoletus group across three habitats in Europe

Möhlmann, T.W.R.; Bekendam, A.M.; Kemenade, I. van; Wennergren, U.; Favia, G.; Takken, W.; Koenraadt, C.J.M.


Culicoides species from the Obsoletus group are important vectors of bluetongue and Schmallenberg virus. This group consists of several species that cannot easily be identified using morphological characteristics. Therefore, limited information is available about their distribution and habitat preferences. In this study, we aimed to elucidate the species composition of the Obsoletus group in three habitat types at climatically different latitudes across Europe. Traps were placed in three habitat types in three countries at different latitudes. After DNA extraction, biting midges were identified using PCR and gel electrophoresis. Extraction of DNA using Chelex proved to be a cost and time efficient method for species identification. A latitudinal effect on the relative abundance of species from the Obsoletus group was found. Species composition was unique for most country-habitat combinations. The majority of biting midges were either C. obsoletus s.s. or C. scoticus, and both species were found at all latitudes and habitats. Their wide distribution and their high abundance at livestock farms make these species likely candidates for rapid farm-to-farm transmission of pathogens throughout Europe. Our results emphasize the need to differentiate Obsoletus group species to better understand their ecology and contribution to pathogen transmission.