BACKGROUND: Aedes aegypti is a potential vector for several arboviruses including dengue and Zika viruses. The species seems to be restricted to subtropical/tropical habitats and has difficulties in establishing permanent populations in southern Europe, probably due to constraints during the winter season. The aim of this study was to systematically analyze the cold tolerance (CT) of Ae. aegypti in its most cold-resistant life stage, the eggs.
METHODS: The CT of Ae. aegypti eggs was compared with that of Ae. albopictus which is well established in large parts of Europe. By systematically studying the literature (meta-analysis), we recognized that CT has been rarely tested in Ae. aegypti eggs, but eggs can survive at zero and sub-zero temperatures for certain exposure periods. To overcome potential bias from experimental differences between studies, we then conducted species comparisons using a harmonized high-resolution CT measuring method. From subtropical populations of the same origin, the survival (hatching in %) and emergence of adults of both species were measured after zero and sub-zero temperature exposures for up to 9 days (3 °C, 0 °C and - 2 °C: ≤ 9 days; - 6 °C: ≤ 2 days).
RESULTS: Our data show that Ae. aegypti eggs can survive low and sub-zero temperatures for a short time period similar to or even better than those of Ae. albopictus. Moreover, after short sub-zero exposures of eggs of both species, individuals still developed into viable adults (Ae. aegypti: 3 adults emerged after 6 days at - 2 °C, Ae. albopictus: 1 adult emerged after 1 day at - 6 °C).
CONCLUSIONS: Thus, both the literature and the present experimental data indicate that a cold winter may not be the preventing factor for the re-establishment of the dengue vector Ae. aegypti in southern Europe.