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Fine-scale landscape genomics helps explain the slow spatial spread of Wolbachia through the Aedes aegypti population in Cairns, Australia

Heredityvolume 120pages386395 (2018) | Download Citation


The endosymbiotic bacterium Wolbachia suppresses the capacity for arbovirus transmission in the mosquito Aedes aegypti, and can spread spatially through wild mosquito populations following local introductions. Recent introductions in Cairns, Australia have demonstrated slower than expected spatial spread. Potential reasons for this include: (i) barriers to Ae. aegypti dispersal; (ii) higher incidence of long-range dispersal; and (iii) intergenerational loss of Wolbachia. We investigated these three potential factors using genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and an assay for the Wolbachia infection wMel in 161 Ae. aegypti collected from Cairns in 2015. We detected a small but significant barrier effect of Cairns highways on Ae. aegypti dispersal using distance-based redundancy analysis and patch-based simulation analysis. We detected a pair of putative full-siblings in ovitraps 1312 m apart, indicating long-distance female movement likely mediated by human transport. We also found a pair of full-siblings of different infection status, indicating intergenerational loss of Wolbachia in the field. These three factors are all expected to contribute to the slow spread of Wolbachia through Ae. aegypti populations, though from our results it is unclear whether Wolbachia loss and long-distance movement are sufficiently common to reduce the speed of spatial spread appreciably. Our findings inform the strategic deployment of Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes during releases, and show how parameter estimates from laboratory studies may differ from those estimated using field data. Our landscape genomics approach can be extended to other host/symbiont systems that are being considered for biocontrol.

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We would like to thank Eliminate Dengue Cairns, particularly field officer Angela Caird, for assistance with ovitrap deployment. We thank the Cairns householders participating in the study for granting permission to deploy ovitraps on their property, as well as Scott Ritchie and Christopher Paton from the Centre for Biosecurity in Tropical Infectious Diseases, James Cook University, for assisting with the processing of field collections. The National Health and Medical Research Council provided funding for this research through a Programme grant and Fellowship grant to A.A. Hoffmann.

Author contributions

AA Hoffmann, G Rašić, and TL Schmidt conceived of and designed the study. TL Schmidt, G Rašić, and I Filipović collected and dried the samples. TL Schmidt performed the laboratory work and conducted the analyses, with assistance from G Rašić, and computational support from I Filipović. TL Schmidt wrote the manuscript with assistance from AA Hoffmann and G Rašić. All authors gave final approval for this manuscript.

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  1. School of BioSciences, Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, 3010, Australia

    • Thomas L. Schmidt
    • , Igor Filipović
    • , Ary A. Hoffmann
    •  & Gordana Rašić


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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Thomas L. Schmidt.

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