Members of the Culex pipiens complex ( Cx. pipiens quinquefasciatus in Southern USA) play a critical role in the spillover of urban arboviruses such as West Nile virus or St. Louis encephalitis virus. Field studies have shown strong correlation between the periodicity of rainfall events and larval proliferation. However, mechanistic determinants driving this relationship are poorly understood. We hypothesize that rainfall events decrease strain from intraspecific competition through the associated reduction of immature density and the introduction of detritus.
To address our hypothesis, we used laboratory competition experiments to inform a deterministic matrix projection model consisting of an age-structured larval matrix coupled with a stage-structured adult mosquito matrix . Rain events were simulated in a competition-based metabolic age model and compared to a null model including environmental variability. Variable rain delays in two-event simulations showed optimal proliferation occurring with rain delays between 16 and 21 days when including density-dependent effects.
These results are comparable to the pattern observed in natural populations, indicating that Cx. quinquefasciatus proliferation rates can be modeled mechanistically as a density-dependent system. The empirical understanding of density-dependence as it relates to environmental stochasticity provides a theoretical platform for the study of larval dynamics and the impact of larval control in this medically relevant disease vector.