Mosquitoes Beware: Mary Garvin's
Looking for YOU
Mosquito-Control Project Combines Learning
and Service for Student Assistants
by Anne C. Paine, photos by Al Fuchs
At this time of year, most people forget about
mosquitoes. But not Mary Garvin. She thinks about those pesky
insects all year long.
If you visited her lab now, you might find
her identifying mosquitoes she collected last summer. Or she
might be analyzing data, writing a paper, or perfecting the
habitat in her mosquito incubators. "Every 10 minutes
in the field results in an hour's work in the lab," the
assistant professor of biology said.
Garvin, who specializes in how organisms interact
with one another and transmit disease, arrived in Oberlin
three and a half years ago, having just completed postdoctoral
work at the University of Notre Dame. Among the projects she
worked on there was a mosquito control program. It didn't
take long for Oberlin to tap into that knowledge.
"As I was walking to lunch one day, someone
asked me to come to a City Council meeting that night to answer
questions about mosquitoes. Twelve hours later I was chairing
the mosquito-control committee," she laughed. The Oberlin
Mosquito-Control Project was born.
the time I was little, I collected insects. I remember my
grandmother scolding me for playing with bugs."
The program, which completed its second year
of operation last August, aims to reduce the number of mosquitoes
in town and to monitor for Culex mosquitoes, the species most
likely to transmit the West Nile virus. The virus has been
spreading steadily since it was detected in New York in 1999.
Ohio Department of Health officials confirmed that the virus
showed up in a dead bird in eastern Ohio last July, and by
September, infected birds had been found in Cuyahoga County,
which abuts Lorain County. Oberlin is in Lorain County.
Because of West Nile, mosquitoes are a hot
topic in many places, but Oberlin residents are more concerned
about the tree-hole mosquito, which transmits the LaCrosse
encephalitis virus and is found in the city.
Garvin's current research interests include
avian malaria, ticks, and mites, but mosquitoes are a primary
focus. She supervises the mosquito-control program, which
is run in collaboration with the City of Oberlin and the Lorain
County General Health District. By cleaning up and eliminating
breeding areas, the program targets mosquito larvae, an approach
Garvin says is more effective than spraying, which targets
only adult mosquitoes.
Two student assistants handle the program's
day-to-day operations. To better understand local mosquito
populations, twice a week the students collect and count specimens
from traps set up in eight locations around town. They also
answer requests for help in identifying and treating mosquito
habitat on private property that come into the mosquito hotline
in Garvin's lab.
Because prior data doesn't exist, quantitative
proof that the program works isn't available. But Garvin believes
the program is a success. The hotline handled 50 calls during
the program's first summer; this summer, dry weather reduced
mosquito opulations and fewer calls were received, she said.
Public education efforts have also succeeded,
she said. Last spring Garvin and her students collaborated
with Associate Professor of English Jan Cooper and students
in her Writing in the Sciences course to produce a brochure
that includes information on controlling mosquitoes. "Our
brochures have made town residents more aware of how to eliminate
breeding sites," she said.
Finally, and perhaps most important to the
teacher in Garvin, the program is an exceptional opportunity
for her students.
"Oberlin students want to apply biology.
But when they go to make that application in this project,
they find that they have to learn the basics first. The project
gives them a great appreciation of the importance of both
basic and applied research. They learn basic ecology of mosquitoes,
and they learn to translate that to the general public.
"When a student comes back from helping
a resident who's called in on the hotline, and he can say,
'I helped someone. I have some knowledge that someone needed
today,' that can be a life-altering experience."