Catch them if you can! A combined effort by citizens and scientists to monitor mosquitoes in Germany

In their latest research, Pernat and colleagues evaluate the performance of the German citizen science project ‘Mückenatlas’, in comparison to professional mosquito monitoring efforts.

Mosquitoes – everyone knows them, hardly anyone likes them, and as carriers of pathogens, they can also pose a threat to the health of humans and animals.

These negative connotations associated with mosquitos have been put to use by Mückenatlas, a citizen science project offering individuals the chance to submit mosquito samples without any protocol or training

A quantitative success

 (a) A box with the submissions of one week. (b) Some examples of the participants’ packaging skills. Photo: Nadja Pernat

Since 2012, more than 138,000 mosquito samples have been submitted to the project. During the summer months, baskets of submissions arrive weekly, and many are creatively packed in boxes of chocolates, pillboxes or film containers.

As a reward for their efforts, each participant receive information on the species caught, how to control the insects, and their role in nature.

Behind the fun, however, lies a serious issue.  

Active versus passive monitoring

Mückenatlas is part of a wider national mosquito surveillance programme launched in 2011 in response to increasing outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases and the emerging spread of the introduced Asian bush mosquito (Ae. japonicus) and Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus),

Therefore over the past 8 years, mosquito surveillance has been performed by applying both active and passive approaches. However, the distinct characteristics of the data stemming from each approach was unknown.

Do the two methods differ in terms of which types of land use are covered, and in what ratio? Which species are recorded over which periods of time, and is one approach better suited to detect and monitor invasive species than the other?

Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). Photo: James Gathany, CDC from the Public Health Image Library (PHIL), Identification Number #1864

We found that the systematic method used by scientists showed a more balanced coverage of land use types and a higher species richness than passive surveillance due to the well-considered placement of traps based on their expert knowledge of mosquito habitats.

In return, passive monitoring data showed an overrepresentation of entries from artificial areas and an astounding ability to detect invasive species due to the participants’ recording behaviour.

Aedes geniculatus (black-and-white habitus with ringed legs. Photo: Linus Früh / ZALF

Implications for mosquito management programmes

Our results suggest that the inclusion of citizen science in formal programmes can compensate for shortcomings of exclusively professional monitoring methods.

More than that, the biases in the participants’ recording behaviour can even make up for shortcomings in under-sampled urban areas and failures to trace the frontier lines of invasion due to too few trapping sites.

We hope that our approach will be an inspiration for projects in other countries. The many ongoing and planned cooperative mosquito monitoring projects show that citizen science is becoming an important component of integrative vector management.

Read the full article, Citizen science versus professional data collection: Comparison of approaches to mosquito monitoring in Germany, in Journal of Applied Ecology

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