Mosquito Alert is a citizen science project that allows tiger mosquitoes and other mosquitoes to be easily reported using a free app. Tiger mosquitoes are always smaller than a 1-cent coin, have a single white line on the back of the head and thoraxand white stripes on the body and legs. The submitted photos are examined by national and international experts and the finds are then displayed anonymously on a publicly accessible map.
Tiger mosquitoes are non-native mosquitoes that originally come from Asia. In recent decades, this species has spread widely in Europe. Tiger mosquitoes are not only a nuisance, they can transmit a variety of pathogens (e.g. the Zika virus or the dengue virus). If tiger mosquitoes spread in Austria, these diseases could also be transmitted in our country. In addition to tiger mosquitoes, other mosquito species can be reported with the app. These are the also non-native species Japanese bush mosquito, Korean bush mosquito and the yellow fever mosquito, which has not yet been detected in Austria. These species are also capable of transmitting certain pathogens and could displace native species. Furthermore, finds of the native common house mosquito can be reported. This is the most important of the native species in the spread of pathogens (e.g. West Nile virus).
The recording of the spread of mosquito species in a country is usually carried out by labor-intensive and costly monitoring projects carried out by experts. Since comprehensive expert monitoring is difficult (and not affordable), reports from citizens often represent a valuable addition to such monitoring projects. For example, the first findings of the Asian tiger mosquitoes in Vienna were reports made by citizens. To offer citizens a tool to report possible tiger mosquitoes and other non-native mosquito species as uncomplicated as possible, the app “Mosquito Alert” was developed. This project, originally from Spain, has been running since 2014 and is coordinated by the institutions CREAF (Centre de Recerca Ecològica i Aplicacions Forestals), UPF (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) ICREA (Institución Catalana de Investigación y Estudios Avanzados) and CEAB-CSIC (Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Blanes). In Spain, more than 18,300 mosquitoes have been reported with the app so far. As part of the AIM-COST5 (AIM = Aedes Invasive Mosquitoes, COST = European Cooperation in Science and Technology) and Versatile Emerging infectious disease Observatory (VEO) projects, the app, via which the mosquitoes are reported, was adapted to the European situation in 2020 by expanding the range of species and the app is now available in 18 different languages. The project is coordinated by AGES for Austria and is carried out in cooperation with other national experts from Vetmeduni Vienna (Priv.Doz. Dr. Hans-Peter Führer, Dr. Maria Unterköfler) and the University of Vienna (Carina Zittra, PhD). If a participant sees one of the target species (instructions for recognition and differentiation are included in the app), one or more photos of this finding can be uploaded using the app. It is important to ensure that the pattern on the thorax and the hind legs is clearly visible, as these are decisive for species identification. The uploaded photos are then examined by three (of approx. 50) experts, at least one of whom is a national expert. They then decide whether it is one of the target species, and if so, which one. Due to the visibility of the identification features in the photo, a find is either “definately” or “probably” assigned to a certain species. The reported findings are displayed anonymously on a publicly accessible map together with the photo. This map could then support health authorities or mosquito control programs in finding out where intervention is necessary. The collected data set is also freely accessible and provides scientists with important information about the distribution of the recorded species. In addition, publicly accessible breeding grounds can be reported via the Mosquito Alert app, which are then also displayed on the map. This can support the implementation of control measures, as it shows where there is still a need for action. Furthermore, mosquito bites can also be reported. This information is not currently displayed on the map but could also indicate in the future where the nuisance for citizens is particularly high and therefore measures may be necessary.