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Mosquitoes may be a year-long problem thanks to climate change, study says

Mosquitoes are known to spread diseases that impact both humans and animals.
Credit: Camila Guillen UF/IFAS
A mosquito. Photo taken 01-12-17.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It seems like the trade-off for Florida's warm tropical summers is the many irritating bumps on our skins left behind by pesky mosquitoes. However, a new study shows that those nuisances may become year-long pests thanks to climate change.

Scientists with the University of Florida/IFAS found that as Earth's winters become shorter and warmer, the usually dormant mosquitoes will adapt and become more active. The researchers discovered that the insects were "plastic," meaning they can tolerate a range of temperatures at different times of the year.

During the still cold but warming spring months, mosquitoes are more tolerant to a wider range of temperatures. That range shrinks during the hot and humid summer months. And, during autumn, that range expands again. 

In order to make their findings, the researchers captured thousands of mosquitoes around Gainesville and placed them in vials, which were then put inside a water bath. Over time, they would increase and decrease the temperatures inside the vials. As the temperatures were raised, scientists found the mosquitoes quickly adapted and were more tolerant of high temperatures. 

"That tells us that as climate change makes our autumns and winters warmer, mosquitoes in more temperate regions are well prepared to be active during those times," Brett Scheffers, senior author of the study and an assistant professor in the UF/IFAS wildlife ecology and conservation department, said.

Scientists hope this research can help communities prepare for the impacts climate change will have on mosquitoes. The insects are known to spread diseases that impact both humans and animals.

"The more mosquito activity there is, the greater the risk of these diseases spreading. Knowledge is power, and knowing that mosquitoes will be more active for more of the year can inform how we get ready for climate change," Scheffers said.

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