15 March 2016
The Culex pipiens complex includes the most widespread mosquito species in the world. Cx. pipiens is the primary vector of the West Nile Virus (WNV) in Europe and North America. Cases of WNV have been recorded in Italy since 1998. In particular, wet areas along the Po River are considered some of the most WNV affected areas in Italy. Here, we analyzed the genetic structure of ten Cx. pipiens populations collected in the last part of the Po River including the Delta area.
We assessed the genetic variability of two mitochondrial markers, cytochrome oxidase 1 (COI) and 2 (COII), for a total of 1200 bp, and one nuclear marker, a fragment of acetylcholinesterase-2 (ace-2), 502 bp long. The effect of the landscape features was evaluated comparing haplotype and nucleotide diversity with the landscape composition.
The analysis showed a high genetic diversity in both COI and COII gene fragments mainly shared by the populations in the Delta area. The COI-COII network showed that the set of haplotypes found was grouped into three main supported lineages with the higher genetic variability gathered in two of the three lineages. By contrast, ace-2 fragment did not show the same differentiation, displaying alleles grouped in a single clade. Finally, a positive correlation between mitochondrial diversity and natural wetland areas was found.
The high mitochondrial genetic diversity found in Cx. pipiens populations from the Po River Delta contrasts with the low variability of inland populations. The different patterns of genetic diversity found comparing mitochondrial and nuclear markers could be explained by factors such as differences in effective population size between markers, sex biased dispersal or lower fitness of dispersing females. Moreover, the correlation between genetic diversity and wetland areas is consistent with ecosystem stability and lack of insecticide pressure characteristic of this habitat. The mtDNA polymorphism found in the Po River Delta is even more interesting due to possible linkages between the mitochondrial lineages and different biting behaviors of the mosquitoes influencing their vector ability of arboviral infections.