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Citizen scientist detects sighting of mosquito thought to be carrier of West Nile
Kelly Foss
Ochlerotatus japonicas

A website set up by researchers at Memorial University, www.nlnature.com, has demonstrated the power of citizen science to provide early detection of novel species in the province.

A member of the public in Newfoundland and Labrador recently posted a sighting of a mosquito to the site, which was set up by researchers at Memorial University. The contributor, Mardon Erbland, notified the website administrators that he thought the mosquito might be Ochlerotatus japonicas, a species of mosquito thought to be a possible vector of the West Nile Virus.

Kate Bassett, an MSc candidate in the Department of Biology doing her thesis research on mosquito-borne viruses, confirmed the sighting.

“It certainly looks very likely based on the photo that it is O. japonicas,” said Ms. Bassett said.

This would be the first sighting of this species of mosquito in the province, though not the first discovery of a mosquito that is a potential carrier of West Nile Virus. In the summer of 2012, Ms. Bassett confirmed the presence of Culex pipiens in St. John’s, another species of mosquito that is a potential carrier of West Nile.

“Ms. Bassett put a great deal of time and effort into her field collection,” said Dr. Yolanda Wiersma, an associate professor in with the Department of Biology and the founder of www.nlnature.com. “It may be years until we have another graduate student putting this kind of effort into field collection.

“The discovery by Mardon Erbland illustrates the potentials of a citizen science website and contributions from keen members of the public like him. This is an example of the type of early detection of new species that we hoped the site would generate when we established it. Without his observation on nlnature.com, it might have been years before this species was detected in the province.”

Mosquitos have the potential to transfer a number of viruses to humans and other animals and are of interest to the province for public and animal health. Memorial University has been engaged in mosquito research for a number of years in cooperation with the provincial government, providing valuable information on the importance of mosquitoes in the province.

Details on the sighting can be found on the NLNature website at: http://www.nlnature.com/Newfoundland-Canada-Nature/1770.aspx

Oct 4th, 2013

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