A Multi-level Analysis of the Interactions between Vectors, Hosts, and Habitats of EEEV
Type of Degreedissertation
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Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) is a rare and dangerous mosquito-borne pathogen with an elusive pattern of occurrence across its range in North America. The primary basis of our understanding of its transmission cycle between the vector Cs. melanura and avian reservoir hosts stems from studies in the northeastern United States. In this dissertation, I draw upon a range of innovative statistical approaches to study the transmission of EEEV in the southeastern United States in relation the ecology of EEEV vectors and avian reservoir hosts. I estimate the dispersal distance of Culex. erraticus, a mosquito species potentially involved in transmission of the virus, using a novel approach rooted in Bayesian statistics and borrowed from the seed dispersal literature. I also consider the distribution of avian reservoir hosts of the virus and their habitat associations, with the goal of estimating rates of utilization of avian host species by EEEV mosquito vectors. Such estimates of host utilization have great potential utility in revealing relative contribution of various hosts species to transmission of the virus. Indeed, I provide evidence that the most highly preferred host of Cs. melanura, the common yellowthroat (Geothylpis trichas), has the strongest support of influencing transmission as a dilution host among species considered. Finally, I develop model a to predict rates of contact of avian hosts with Cx. erraticus based on host characteristics using data on host traits available from the ornithological literature. Together these results of my studies provide a strong basis for the future development of predictive models for occurrence of the virus and provide a framework for future research of the transmission of this virus in the Southeast, and potentially throughout its range in North America.