Increasing risk of West Nile virus outbreaks in the UK under climate change

Vector-borne diseases (VBDs), such as dengue, Zika, West Nile virus (WNV) and tick-borne encephalitis, account for substantial human morbidity worldwide and have expanded their range into temperate regions in recent decades. We developed a modelling framework to predict the risk of disease establishment in marginal temperate environments, with a particular focus on WNV.


Climate change has been proposed as a likely driver of past and future expansion of vector-borne diseases (VBDs); however, the complex ecology of host and vector populations and their interactions with each other and environmental variables makes understanding the likely impacts of climate change on VBDs challenging.

BioSS Role

BioSS, in collaboration with researchers at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) and the University of Glasgow developed an environmentally driven, stage-structured, host–vector mathematical modelling framework predict the risk of vector-borne disease transmission.  This built on previous work conducted at UKCEH (Ewing et al 2016, Ewing et al 2019) by extending a previous model predicting environmental effects on seasonal abundance to explicitly model transmission of West Nile virus. 

Maps showing increasing risk of West Nile virus through years

Future Developments

Some of the methods developed in this project have been extended further by researchers at UKCEH with help from BioSS scientists to allow for inclusion of phenotypic plasiticity within stage-structured population models (Brass et al 2021).  These approaches are currently being applied to the Aedes albopictus mosquito species to predict dengue outbreaks.


This work was done in collaboration with Steven White and Beth Purse at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and Christina Cobbold at the University of Glasgow. It was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and EPIC (Scotland’s Centre of Expertise on Animal Disease Outbreaks).

Photo credit: "Gemeine Stechmücke - Culex pipiens" by gbohne is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit


Brass, D.P., Cobbold, C.A., Ewing, D.A., Purse, B.V., Callaghan, A.& White, S.M. (2021) Phenotypic plasticity as a cause and consequence of population dynamics. Ecology Letters, 24, 2406– 2417.

Ewing D.A., Purse BbV., Cobbold C.A. and White S.M. 2021 A novel approach for predicting risk of vector-borne disease establishment in marginal temperate environments under climate change: West Nile virus in the UK.  J. R. Soc. Interface. 182021004920210049.

Ewing, D.A., Purse, B.V., Cobbold, C.A. and White S.M. 2019 Uncovering mechanisms behind mosquito seasonality by integrating mathematical models and daily empirical population data: Culex pipiens in the UK. Parasites Vectors 12, 74.

Ewing D.A., Cobbold C.A., Purse B.V., Nunn M.A. and White S.M. 2016 Modelling the effect of temperature on the seasonal population dynamics of temperate mosquitoes. J Theor Biol 400 65-79.

Photo of David Ewing with mountains in the background

For further details contact:

David Ewing