Background: The Triatoma brasiliensis complex is a monophyletic group, comprising three species, one of which includes two subspecific taxa, distributed across 12 Brazilian states, in the caatinga and cerrado biomes. Members of the complex are diverse in terms of epidemiological importance, morphology, biology, ecology, and genetics. Triatoma b. brasiliensis is the most disease-relevant member of the complex in terms of epidemiology, extensive distribution, broad feeding preferences, broad ecological distribution, and high rates of infection with Trypanosoma cruzi; consequently, it is considered the principal vector of Chagas disease in northeastern Brazil.
Methods: We used ecological niche models to estimate potential distributions of all members of the complex, and evaluated the potential for suitable adjacent areas to be colonized; we also present first evaluations of potential for climate change-mediated distributional shifts. Models were developed using the GARP and Maxent algorithms.
Results: Models for three members of the complex (T. b. brasiliensis, N = 332; T. b. macromelasoma, N = 35; and T. juazeirensis, N = 78) had significant distributional predictivity; however, models for T. sherlocki and T. melanica, both with very small sample sizes (N = 7), did not yield predictions that performed better than random. Model projections onto future-climate scenarios indicated little broad-scale potential for change in the potential distribution of the complex through 2050.
Conclusions: This study suggests that T. b. brasiliensis is the member of the complex with the greatest distributional potential to colonize new areas: overall; however, the distribution of the complex appears relatively stable. These analyses offer key information to guide proactive monitoring and remediation activities to reduce risk of Chagas disease transmission.