Simulating an invasion: unsealed water storage (rainwater tanks) and urban block design facilitate the spread of the dengue fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, in Brisbane, Australia

Biol Invasions. 2021;23(12):3891-3906. doi: 10.1007/s10530-021-02619-z. Epub 2021 Aug 25.


Aedes aegypti (Linnaeus) was once highly prevalent across eastern Australia, resulting in epidemics of dengue fever. Drought conditions have led to a rapid rise in semi-permanent, urban water storage containers called rainwater tanks known to be critical larval habitat for the species. The presence of these larval habitats has increased the risk of establishment of highly urbanised, invasive mosquito vectors such as Ae. aegypti. Here we use a spatially explicit network model to examine the role that unsealed rainwater tanks may play in population connectivity of an Ae. aegypti invasion in suburbs of Brisbane, a major Australian city. We characterise movement between rainwater tanks as a diffusion-like process, limited by a maximum distance of movement, average life expectancy, and a probability that Ae. aegypti will cross wide open spaces such as roads. The simulation model was run against a number of scenarios that examined population spread through the rainwater tank network based on non-compliance rates of tanks (unsealed or sealed) and road grids. We show that Ae. aegypti tank infestation and population spread was greatest in areas of high tank density and road lengths were shortest e.g. cul-de-sacs. Rainwater tank non-compliance rates of over 30% show increased connectivity when compared to less than 10%, suggesting rainwater tanks non-compliance should be maintained under this level to minimize the spread of an invading Ae. aegypti population. These results presented as risk maps of Ae. aegypti spread across Brisbane, can assist health and government authorities on where to optimally target rainwater tank surveillance and educational activities.

Supplementary information: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s10530-021-02619-z.

Keywords: Aedes aegypti; Invasion simulation; Network model; Population spread; Water storage.