Humidity – The overlooked variable in the thermal biology of mosquito-borne disease

Joel J. Brown, Mercedes Pascual, Michael C. Wimberly, Leah R. Johnson, Courtney C. Murdock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Vector-borne diseases cause significant financial and human loss, with billions of dollars spent on control. Arthropod vectors experience a complex suite of environmental factors that affect fitness, population growth and species interactions across multiple spatial and temporal scales. Temperature and water availability are two of the most important abiotic variables influencing their distributions and abundances. While extensive research on temperature exists, the influence of humidity on vector and pathogen parameters affecting disease dynamics are less understood. Humidity is often underemphasized, and when considered, is often treated as independent of temperature even though desiccation likely contributes to declines in trait performance at warmer temperatures. This Perspectives explores how humidity shapes the thermal performance of mosquito-borne pathogen transmission. We summarize what is known about its effects and propose a conceptual model for how temperature and humidity interact to shape the range of temperatures across which mosquitoes persist and achieve high transmission potential. We discuss how failing to account for these interactions hinders efforts to forecast transmission dynamics and respond to epidemics of mosquito-borne infections. We outline future research areas that will ground the effects of humidity on the thermal biology of pathogen transmission in a theoretical and empirical framework to improve spatial and temporal prediction of vector-borne pathogen transmission.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1029-1049
Number of pages21
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2023


  • climate change
  • ecophysiology
  • humidity
  • mosquito
  • parasite ecology
  • pathogen
  • temperature
  • vector-borne disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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