It was the late summer of 1999 and the West Nile Virus (WNV) had found its way to the eastern shores of the US. Birds at the New York Bronx Zoo began to die from an exotic disease. Several people had already been hospitalized with encephalitis-like symptoms. Carried by mosquitoes, our horses are at risk for WNV simply by their high-frequency exposure to the bites of these pests. Vaccination is an important prevention step, but limiting the horses' risks from mosquito bites is the first line of defense.
Ecology's Role in Prevention
A study from Mississippi State University has revealed that the environment and the climate play a significant role in mosquito populations. They discovered that the virus' spread can be curtailed by encouraging a diverse and flourishing ecosystem with a wide variety of plant and animal species. Weather, and its impact on that ecosystem, was also a significant contributing factor. By recording the WNV case reports in Mississippi, the study saw a direct correlation with outbreaks and drought conditions.
Interestingly, the counties experiencing the lowest rainfall saw the highest increase in the mosquito population, and thus WNV cases, the following year. This seemed strange at first but the researchers deduced just why this occurred. Drier conditions caused lowered water tables. Fish populations suffered, reducing the number of mouths that preyed on mosquito larvae. With this reduced predator population, mosquito hatches were able to survive in greater numbers.
The study tells us that in order to limit the number of virus-carrying mosquitoes, a diverse and flourishing ecosystem needs to be maintained. Areas that enjoyed a rich and varied landscape with trees, shrubs, verges and active wildlife populations saw a reduced number of WNV cases. Mixtures of forests and plains provided habitat for the largest variety of life, including the birds, fish and amphibians that feed on mosquitoes and their larvae.
Diversity = Lowered Virus Carriers
Preserving the natural topography, plant life and ecosystems in our areas has impacts far beyond beauty and curiosity; natural systems are symbiotic. Our horses, other animals and ourselves coexist in a fragile environmental realm. Conservation is key to maintaining the balance that we all rely on.
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