Avian malaria parasites in the last supper: identifying encounters between parasites and the invasive Asian mosquito tiger and native mosquito species in Italy.
Background: The invasive Asian tiger mosquito Aedes albopictus has dramatically expanded its distribution range, being catalogued as one of the world's 100 worst invasive alien species. As vectors of pathogens, Ae. albopictus may create novel epidemiological scenarios in the invaded areas. Methods: Here, the frequency of encounters of Ae. albopictus with the avian malaria parasite Plasmodium and the related Haemoproteus was studied in an area with established populations in northeastern Italy and compared with those from four native mosquito species, Anopheles maculipennis s.l., Culex hortensis, Culex pipiens, and Ochlerotatus caspius. The abdomens of mosquitoes with a recent blood meal were used to identify both the blood meal source and the parasites harboured. Results: Aedes albopictus had a clear antropophilic behaviour while An. maculipennis and Oc. caspius fed mainly on non-human mammals. Birds were the most common hosts of Cx. pipiens and reptiles of Cx. hortensis. Parasites were isolated from three mosquito species, with Cx. pipiens (30%) showing the highest parasite prevalence followed by Cx. hortensis (9%) and Ae. albopictus (5%). Conclusions: These results are the first identifying the avian malaria parasites harboured by mosquitoes in Italy and represent the first evidence supporting that, although Ae. albopictus could be involved in the transmission of avian malaria parasites, the risk of avian malaria parasite spread by this invasive mosquito in Europe would be minimal.