Ecological niche model of Phlebotomus perniciosus, the main vector of canine leishmaniasis in north-eastern Italy

With respect to the epidemiology of leishmaniasis, it is crucial to take into account the ecoclimatic and environmental characteristics that influence the distribution patterns of the vector sand fly species. It is also important to consider the possible impact of on-going climate changes on the emergence of this disease. In order to map the potential distribution of Phlebotomus perniciosus, the main vector species of canine leishmaniasis in north-eastern Italy, geographical information systems tools, ecological niche models (ENM) and remotely sensed environmental data were applied for a retrospective analysis of an entomological survey conducted in north-eastern Italy over 12 years. Sand fly trapping was conducted from 2001 to 2012 in 175 sites in the provinces of Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige. We developed a predictive model of potential distribution of P. perniciosus using the maximum entropy algorithm software, based on seasonal normalized difference vegetation index, day and night land surface temperature, the Corine land cover 2006, a digital elevation model (GTOPO30) and climate layers obtained from the WorldClim database. The MaxEnt prediction found the more suitable habitat for P. perniciosus to be hilly areas (100-300 m above the mean sea level) characterised by temperate climate during the winter and summer seasons, high winter vegetation cover and moderate rainfall during the activity season of vector sand fly. ENM provided a greater understanding of the geographical distribution and ecological requirements of P. perniciosus in the study area, which can be applied for the development of future surveillance strategies.