We conducted studies on mosquitoes and West Nile virus (WNV) along a riparian corridor following the South Platte River and Big Thompson River in northeastern Colorado and extending from an elevation of 1,215 m in the prairie landscape of the eastern Colorado plains to 1,840 m in low montane areas at the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains in the central part of the state. Mosquito collection during June–September 2007 in 20 sites along this riparian corridor yielded a total of 199,833 identifiable mosquitoes of 17 species. The most commonly collected mosquitoes were, in descending order: Aedes vexans, Culex tarsalis, Ae. dorsalis, Ae. trivittatus, Ae. melanimon, Cx. pipiens, and Culiseta inornata. Species richness was higher in the plains than in foothills-montane areas, and abundances of several individual species, including the WNV vectors Cx. tarsalis and Cx. pipiens and the nuisance-biter and potential secondary WNV vector Ae. vexans, decreased dramatically from the plains (1,215–1,487 m) to foothills-montane areas (1,524–1,840 m). Ae. vexans and Cx. tarsalis had a striking pattern of uniformly high abundances between 1,200–1,450 m followed by a gradual decrease in abundance above 1,450 m to reach very low numbers above 1,550 m. Culex species were commonly infected with WNV in the plains portion of the riparian corridor in 2007, with 14 of 16 sites yielding WNV-infected Cx. tarsalis and infection rates for Cx. tarsalis females exceeding 2.0 per 1,000 individuals in ten of the sites. The Vector Index for abundance of WNV-infected Cx. tarsalis females during June–September exceeded 0.5 in six plains sites along the South Platte River but was uniformly low (0–0.1) in plains, foothills and montane sites above 1,500 m along the Big Thompson River. A population genetic analysis of Cx. tarsalis revealed that all collections from the ∼190 km riparian transect in northeastern Colorado were genetically uniform but that these collections were genetically distinct from collections from Delta County on the western slope of the Continental Divide. This suggests that major waterways in the Great Plains serve as important dispersal corridors for Cx. tarsalis but that the Continental Divide is a formidable barrier to this WNV vector.
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