Various vector control options are increasingly being considered to safeguard forest birds in their natural habitats from avian malaria transmission. However, vector control options require localized deployment that is not logistically, ethically, ecologically, nor economically viable everywhere and all the time. Based on thermal tolerances of the sporogonic stages of avian malaria (Plasmodium relictum) parasite and its vector, the southern house mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus), we examined the long-term weather trends for three high value, forest bird refuges (Alakai Wilderness Preserve on Kaua’i, Hanawi Natural Area Reserve on Maui, and Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on Hawai’i Island) to understand the temporal and site-specific differences of temperature-driven suitability for localized avian malaria transmission.
On average, Alakai had mean ambient temperatures suitable for both the vector’s immature stage development and parasite sporogonic development most of the time (85.3%), indicating that observed variability in vector abundance or disease transmission may be driven by other factors. At higher elevation sites like Hakalau and Hanawi, current mean ambient temperatures suitable only for vector development prevail (91.7% and 96.6%, respectively), while mean ambient temperatures for both vector and parasite sporogonic development seldom occur (4.4% and 0% respectively). Our results not only show differences in the temperature suitability for transmission across elevation, but also different levels of vulnerability to avian malaria transmission with any additional projected increase in temperature. For instance, under a conservative warming scenario of 1.0 °C, the joint temperature suitability of parasite and vector development increases at higher elevation sites such as Hakalau (+35.8%) and Hanawi (+15.4%). While mean ambient temperatures suitable for both vector and parasite development already occur most of the time at Alakai, the occurrence also increases (+8.4%) as well under this conservative warming scenario.
By linking current site-specific weather data to real-time weather forecasts, we developed a real-time avian malaria warning system to assist managers in identifying conditions when vector control is most needed at these three selected study sites. This online tool determines when conditions are likely to be suitable for local development of P. relictum and C. quinquefasciatus at Alakai, Hanawi, and Hakalau. This tool illustrates how managers can incorporate climate and current weather patterns into decision making without having to consider the uncertainties of long-term climatic and ecological projections.