A study of biting midge populations and an assessment of Bluetongue virus presence in southern Ontario, with a visual dichotomous key to the North American genera of Ceratopogonidae
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Biting midges (Diptera: Ceratopogonidae) are flying insects that feed on blood in order to produce eggs. Due to their bloodfeeding habits, some species act as vectors for viruses, many of which affect ruminant animals. This establishes ceratopogonids as possible threats to livestock farmers, and therefore it is important to understand their distribution and habits. This study focussed on collecting biting midge specimens from localities across Ontario where livestock farms are present, and determining if they were carrying Bluetongue virus (BTV). Fourteen livestock farms were sampled to assess presence of ceratopogonid vectors. Captured Culicoides specimens were subjected to RT-qPCR analysis to test for BTV. The North American vector for BTV (Culicoides sonorensis) was collected at multiple localities, constituting the first record of this species in Ontario. Identity of C. sonorensis specimens was verified using molecular analysis of three gene regions: CO1, ITS1, and EF1α. Gene sequences for Culicoides variipennis, a species easily confused with C. sonorensis, were also analyzed. Analysis revealed that EF1α introns differed between the species and may be useful as molecular identifiers. Sequences for all three gene regions were submitted to the National Center for Biotechnology Information gene database. The Brock University Rothamsted Trap operated during the summer seasons of 2013 to 2017, collecting insects at ~12m above ground on a daily basis. Collected biting midges were identified to genus, and genus tallies were compared with five climate variables using redundancy analysis (RDA) to determine factors that affect the activity of collected genera. Phenological patterns of Bezzia, Culicoides, and Probezzia were compared in detail to temperature values. A literature search was performed to evaluate progression of BTV and epizootic hemorrhagic disease virus (EHDV) across North America since their initial detections in the 1950s. Records detailing virus outbreaks were analyzed and maps displaying the chronological progression of BTV and EHDV were created, providing a visual representation of their dispersal patterns. Finally, a dichotomous key to the Nearctic biting midge genera was constructed and illustrated with high-definition photography to show key characters. This key aids with taxonomic identification of the 35 recognized genera occurring north of Mexico.