Spatial distribution of Culicoides species in Portugal in relation to the transmission of African horse sickness and bluetongue viruses


Bethan Purse, Institute for Animal Health, Ash Road, Pirbright, Surrey GU24 0NF, U.K. E-mail: beth.purse@


Abstract.  Surveillance of Culicoides (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) biting midge vectors was carried out at 87 sites within a 50 × 50 km grid distributed across Portugal, using light trap collections at the time of peak midge abundance. Culicoides imicola (Kieffer) made up 66% of the 55 937 Culicoides in these summer collections. It was highly abundant in the central eastern portion of Portugal, between 37°5′ N and 41°5′ N, and in a band across to the Lisbon penninsula (at around 38°5′ N). Of all the complexes, its distribution was most consistent with that of previous outbreaks of Culicoides-borne disease, suggesting that it may remain the major vector in Portugal. Its distribution was also broadly consistent with that predicted by a recent climate-driven model validating the use of remote sensing datasets for modelling of Culicoides distribution. Adult C. imicola were found to have overwintered at 12 of 20 sites re-surveyed in winter but it did so in very low numbers. Culicoides obsoletus (Meigen) and Culicoides pulicaris (Linnaeus) complex midges were widespread despite their low summer abundance. The observed coincidence of high abundances of C. imicola and high abundances of C. pulicaris in summer lead us to suggest that C. imicola could bring African horse sickness virus or bluetongue virus into contact with C. pulicaris and the latter complex, together with C. obsoletus, could then transmit these viruses across much wider areas of Europe. The fact that adult C. pulicaris are present in high abundances in winter may provide a mechanism by which these viruses can overwinter in these areas.