, was previously thought to have been introduced to the Galapagos in a one-off event in the mid-1980s.
However, scientists from the University of Leeds, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the University of Guayaquil, the Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation, have shown that the mosquito is regularly hitching a ride from the mainland and breeding with existing populations.
The sinister stowaways are also island hopping on tourist boats, meaning that incursions of mosquito-borne diseases are likely to spread throughout the archipelago.
Arnaud Bataille, a Leeds-ZSL PhD student who carried out the work said, "Our research consisted of looking for insects in aircraft holds and genetic analysis of the mosquito populations. The former allows us to quantify the arrival rates of mosquitoes on aeroplanes, and the latter allow us to estimate how many survive and spread around the islands once in Galapagos. On average the number of mosquitoes per aeroplane is low, but many aircraft arrive each day from the mainland in order to service the tourist industry, and the mosquitoes seem able to survive and breed once they leave the plane."
The southern house mosquito is an important carrier of diseases such as avian malaria, avian pox and West Nile fever. Its introduction to Hawaii in the late 19th Century had a devastating effect on the islands' endemic birds. Only 19 out of 42 species and subspecies of honeycreeper now remain, and many of the extinctions are considered to have been caused by diseases spread by the mosquito.
Andrew Cunningham, a senior scientist at ZSL and a co-author of the study says: "Our research has shown that everything is in place for a similar disaster to occur in Galapagos as occurred in Hawaii. Unless immediate and forceful mitigating actions are taken, it is only a matter of time before Galapagos wildlife meet the same fate as the Hawaiian honeycreepers."
Tourism is a major source of income for the Galapagos, providing funding for the National Park and Marine Reserve which protect the islands wildlife.
This new research highlights how the cost of tourism could outweigh its benefits if the constant threat of introduced disease pathogens remains unchecked.
"Few tourists realise the irony that their trip to Galapagos may actually increase the risk of an ecological disaster," says Leeds University's Simon Goodman, one of the authors of the study.
"That we havent already seen serious disease impacts in Galapagos is probably just a matter of luck. The Ecuadorian government recently introduced a requirement for all aircraft flying to Galapagos to have insecticide treatment, but the effectiveness hasnt yet been evaluated, and similar measures still need to be introduced for ships. With tourism growing so rapidly, the future of Galapagos hangs on the ability of the Ecuadorian government to maintain stringent biosecurity protection for the islands."
Ralf Richter, David Brockwell, Eric Hewitt, Jessica Kwok, Emanuele Paci and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £600,000
Eric Blair, Adrian Whitehouse, Nicola Stonehouse, Alison Baker, Richard Bayliss, Joan Boyes, Ryan Seipke, Sally Boxall and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £376,000
Stefan Kepinski, Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Tom Bennett, Michelle Peckham, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £331,000
Roman Tuma, Lars Jeuken, Paul Millner, Sheena Radford, Peter Stockley and MAPS/FMH, BBSRC (Jun 2017), £222,000
Vas Ponnambalam, Darren Tomlinson, Stephen Wheatcroft, BHF (May 2017), £107,878
Graham Askew in collaboration with Bangor University, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £477,383
Stephen Muench, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £132,945
Nic Stonehouse, MRC (Mar 2017), £906,341
Bill Kunin, Steve Sait, BBSRC (Mar 2017), £602,831
Adrian Goldman, EU (Mar 2017), £546,576
Sheena Radford, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2017), £1,836,482
Beatrice Filippi, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Jamie Johnston, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Tom Bennett, Royal Society (Mar 2017), £15,000
Ryan Seipke, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £52,116
Mary O'Connell, BBSRC (Feb 2017), £46,986
Hannah Dugdale, NERC (Feb 2017), £504,138
Anastasia Zhuravleva, EPSRC (Jan 2017), £100,792
Richard Bayliss, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2017), £1,600,000
John Barr, EU (Jan 2017), £339,000
Mark Harris, Royal Society (Jan 2017), £250,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Jan 2017), £105,000
Alex Breeze, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (Jan 2017), £180,000
Alison Dunn, NERC (Dec 2016), £18,000
Lisa Collins, BBSRC (Dec 2016), £1,681,835
Brendan Davies, Leverhulme Trust (Dec 2016), £247,555
Alan Benson, Mark Drinkhill, Ed White, British Heart Foundaion (Dec 2016), £217,223
Adrian Goldman, Royal Society (Dec 2016), £82,999
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, RCUK (Nov 2016), £484,172
Lisa Roberts, Alex Breeze, Brendan Davies, Timothy Devinney, Oliver Harlen, Joseph Holden, Anthea Hucklesby, Pamela Jones, Philip Mellor, Wellcome Trust (Nov 2016), £119,343
Katie Field, Rank Prize Funds (Nov 2016), £20,000
Jessica Kwok, Royal Society (Nov 2016), £14,948
John Ladbury, Cancer Research UK (Oct 2016), £4,250
Miriam Wittmann, Martin Stacey, Edward Vital, Lupus UK
(Oct 2016), £34,010
Valerie Speirs, NC3Rs
(Oct 2016), £90,000
Nicola Stonehouse, Morgan Herod, David Rowlands, BBSRC
(Sep 2016), £436,424
Joseph Cockburn, Wellcome Trust
(Sep 2016), £100,000
John Barr, Public Health England
(Sep 2016), £94,471
Helen Miller, DSM Nutritional Products A/S
(Sep 2016), £54,680
Steven Clapcote, Vitaflo International Ltd
(Sep 2016), £39,285
Juan Fontana Jordan De Urries
, Royal Society
(Sep 2016), £21,793
Jing Li, Sarah Calaghan, Mark Drinkhill, British Heart Foundation
(Sep 2016), £117,585
Sheena Radford, Alison Ashcroft, BBSRC (Sep 2016), £457,216
Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle, An-Jung Chen, David Westhead, NC3Rs
(Sep 2016), £354,456
Glyn Hemsworth, BBSRC (Sep 2016), £1,024,034