Community analysis of the abundance and diversity of biting midge species (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) in three European countries at different latitudes

Mohlmann, T.W.R.; Wennergren, Uno; Tälle, Malin; Favia, Guido; Damiani, Claudia; Bracchetti, Luca; Takken, W.; Koenraadt, C.J.M.


Background The outbreaks of bluetongue and Schmallenberg disease in Europe have increased efforts to understand the ecology of Culicoides biting midges and their role in pathogen transmission. However, most studies have focused on a specific habitat, region, or country. To facilitate wider comparisons, and to obtain a better understanding of the spread of disease through Europe, the present study focused on monitoring biting midge species diversity in three different habitat types and three countries across Europe. Methods Biting midges were trapped using Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute light traps at a total of 27 locations in Sweden, the Netherlands and Italy, comprising farm, peri-urban and wetland habitats. From July 2014 to June 2015 all locations were sampled monthly, except for during the winter months. Trapped midges were counted and identified morphologically. Indices on species richness, evenness and diversity were calculated. Community compositions were analysed using non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) techniques. Results A total of 50,085 female midges were trapped during 442 collection nights. More than 88% of these belonged to the Obsoletus group. The highest midge diversity was found in Sweden, while species richness was highest in the Netherlands, and most specimens were trapped in Italy. For habitats within countries, diversity of the trapped midges was lowest for farms in all countries. Differences in biting midge species communities were more distinct across the three countries than the three habitat types. Conclusions A core midge community could be identified, in which the Obsoletus group was the most abundant. Variations in vector communities across countries imply different patterns of disease spread throughout Europe. How specific species and their associated communities affect disease risk is still unclear. Our results emphasize the importance of midge diversity data at community level, how this differs across large geographic range within Europe, and its implications on assessing risks of midge-borne disease outbreaks.