The endosymbiotic bacteria Wolbachia pipientis Hertig infects a wide variety of insect species and can increase viral resistance in its host. Wolbachia naturally infects Culex quinquefasciatus Say and Culex pipiens L. mosquitoes, both vectors of West Nile virus (WNV). We recently demonstrated that Wolbachia infection of Cx. quinquefasciatus laboratory strain Ben95 increases host resistance to WNV infection, reducing vector competence. This observation raised the possibility that Wolbachia could impact vector competence in other populations of Cx. quinquefasciatus or Cx. pipiens. To investigate this possibility, Wolbachia densities were measured in Ben95 Cx. quinquefasciatus and compared with densities in a newly established colony of Cx. quinquefasciatus, and in field-collected and colonized Cx. pipiens. Wolbachia densities in somatic tissues of Ben95 Cx. quinquefasciatus were significantly higher than densities in the other mosquito populations tested. There was also no significant spatiotemporal variation in Wolbachia density in the field-collected Cx. pipiens, although significant familial differences were observed. Correlating Wolbachia densities and vector competence in individual colonized Cx. pipiens indicated that the densities of somatic Wolbachia observed in the mosquitoes other than Ben95 Cx. quinquefasciatus were too low to inhibit WNV infection and reduce vector competence. These results suggest that the high Wolbachia densities capable of inducing resistance to WNV in Ben95 Cx. quinquefasciatus sue not a general characteristic of Cx. quinquefasciatus or Cx. pipiens mosquitoes and that the impact of Wolbachia on vector competence in field populations of Cx. quinquefasciatus and Cx. pipiens, if any, is likely to be limited to specific populations.
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Vol. 51 • No. 1