The work took on new urgency this year when Zika was linked to severe birth defects in Brazil and other nations in the Americas.
“We were asking to do this project four years ago,” but funding agencies showed little interest in the project, said Kathryn Hanley, an NMSU biologist who has studied Zika virus in Africa and elsewhere.
Hanley will team up with geography professor Michaela Buenemann to perform the research with the help of graduate students.
The project is funded by a $90,000 contract with the New Mexico Department of Health. The work is intended to help health officials plan for the possibility of local Zika infections and reduce infection risks.
The two species, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are both known to occur in at least three southern New Mexico counties, but their precise range is unclear.
Researchers will place mosquito traps in 24 of New Mexico’s 33 counties this summer to determine both their range and the time of year when the mosquitoes are most numerous, Hanley said.
Researchers will study the types of land cover, humidity and temperature that offer the best environment for the mosquitoes, she said.