Visiting mosquitoes threaten Galapagos with deadly virus

By Colin Ricketts - 17 Sep 2011 16:9:27 GMT
Visiting mosquitoes threaten Galapagos with deadly virus

The islands that are home to the unique wildlife which helped shape Charles Darwin's evolutionary theories are under threat from the arrival of a potentially deadly virus arriving in the blood of visiting mosquitoes.

A team of researchers from the University of Leeds, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and the New York State Department of Health worked with colleagues from the University of Guayaquil and the Galapagos National Park Service to study the West Nile virus on the islands off the South American coast.

The virus has been responsible for killing off birds in North America and scientists are worried that mosquitoes which could transmit it are arriving via airliners.

The scientists put the particular breed of mosquito which had been found on the Galapagos under the microscope and found that it could pass on the virus.

Prof Andrew Cunningham from ZSL said: "We now know that mosquitoes capable of carrying West Nile virus have a route onto the Galapagos, and once there, the virus could also spread into the local mosquito population. This means there is potential for large impacts on endemic species. There is no doubt that West Nile virus poses a serious threat to the survival of the Galapagos' iconic wildlife."

The team now want to further study the prevalence of the virus in Ecuador, which owns the islands, and are calling for strict controls on visiting boats and planes to keep any unwanted arrivals away from the islands.

"Piece by piece we are building up a comprehensive picture of the disease ecology in Galapagos and what could happen if WNV were to reach the islands," said Dr Simon Goodman from the University of Leeds. "Once WNV has been introduced onto the Galapagos, it would be much harder to contain. Therefore the best strategy is to have strict preventive measures to reduce the chance of the disease reaching the islands in the first place."

The research, authored by PhD student Gillian Eastwood is published in the current edition of the American Journal of Tropical Medicine Hygiene.

Top Image Credit: Mosquito © Scott Hussey