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Florida Mosquito Research Has Returned Huge Dividends to Florida

Spending the taxpayer's dollars judiciously is serious business. Taxpayers demand that all expenditures using taxpayer funds provide essential benefits to the public welfare. One way to ensure that such expenditures are essential is to measure the benefit to the public in terms of an actual return on investment. Is the expenditure for a government service or program worth it to the public and taxpayer? Can one measure a return to the taxpayer in dollars saved, increased tax revenues, etc.?

Florida's mosquito research program was eliminated from the Florida budget in 2012 after nearly 30 years of State support for this small program of $250,000 annually. Florida's mosquito control and public health professionals generally agree that this program is vital to maintain Florida's capacity to control mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases. Without a bona fide, well-organized research program to ensure that mosquito and mosquito-borne disease control remains efficient, effective and environmentally proper, Florida will surely be unable to meet the future challenges of protecting the public health and well-being of its citizens and visitors and also to protect the State's economy. How does one calculate the savings to the State of documenting the biology of different Florida mosquitoes, of providing information about pesticide delivery systems, of investigating mosquito-borne disease cycles, of disseminating information on novel or improved mosquito control strategies? How can one assign a dollar figure to this wealth of information concerning Florida's mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases?

In an effort to capture at least some information that would be relevant to the question, let's frame the issue around only a few selected results of the many obtained from Florida's research on mosquitoes. Several Florida mosquito control districts responded to these questions with their estimates of the actual dollars saved in their district while providing mosquito control. It should be noted that although these are rather crude estimates, it is still apparent that the savings to mosquito control are remarkable. The following are five selected accomplishments of Florida mosquito research that districts were asked to address, and the expected estimated savings to their district using the specific information in their mosquito control operations:

1.Improved mosquito impoundments using Rotational Impoundment Management (RIM) lead to reduced need for spraying pesticides on impounded areas (Figure 1).

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Figure 1. Research in Florida has allowed management of impoundments for natural resource enhancement while maintaining efficient mosquito control.  wtimp

2.Improved pesticide delivery systems lead to improved mosquito control with lower pesticide applications and lower costs (Figure 2).

 wttrucks Figure 2. Improved pesticide delivery using ultra low volume (ULV) applications (left).

3.Improved information about mosquito-borne diseases, like West Nile, from surveillance information allows for targeted control in high risk regions of a county, with reduced costs compared to costs for controlling all mosquitoes or vector species with no knowledge of risk or with little to no risk (Figure 3).

Figure 3. A risk map for West Nile in Florida based on hydrological information, models and knowledge about reservoirs, vectors and virus amplification allowing focus on high risk regions for disease prevention and control. From UF IFAS Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, Encephalitis Information System (http://eis.ifas.ufl.edu/eis1.htm). wtriskmap

4.Improved ability to assess mosquito resistance to pesticides leads to greater life usefulness of the least expensive effective pesticide (Figure 4).

wtresistance Figure 4. The results of testing Culex nigripalpus in Indian River County for resistance to several common pesticides. Note the increased resistance to fenthion(gray line) shown by longer times needed for effect and greater survival.

5.Improved ability and means to reduce non-target effects reduce need for more expensive strategies or products while maintaining effective control (Figure 5).

Figure 5. The Miami blue butterfly Hemiargus thomasi Bahia Honda State Park, Monroe Co., FL(J. Glassberg) From the North American Butterfly Association http://www.naba.org/miamiblue.html wtmiamiblue

The information for the savings resulting from the above mosquito research accomplishments were provided by several Florida mosquito control districts, including Collier, Indian River, Jacksonville, Lee, Martin, St. Lucie, and Volusia. It was apparent that some of the accomplishments were not relevant to all of the selected districts and some accomplishments do not influence the budget every year. For example, some districts do not utilize aerial adulticidingas much as others, impacting expected savings. Only a few districts on Florida's east coast rely on impoundment management to control salt marsh mosquitoes. Accomplishments in reducing resistance or savings from targeting solely vector species occur sporadically. Nevertheless, the responses from mosquito control districts clearly demonstrate the enormous economic return from scientific research, substantially reducing the costs for mosquito control.

For example, consider the costs in savings to east Florida mosquito control in not having to apply as much in costly larvicides because of the use of Rotational Impoundment Management (RIM) and variations thereof. These integrated management methods have extended the usefulness of mosquito impoundments to control salt marsh mosquitoes. The savings in using RIM rather than spraying the estimated 40,000 impounded acres of marsh on the east coast of Florida is roughly $10,000,000 annually ( 40,000 X $25/acre for Bti X 10 treatments annually). The other substantial savings provided by the 7 selected districts are roughly $5,000,000 due to improved pesticide delivery systems, roughly $5,000,000 due to implementing mosquito control at precise times and locations to target specific pests of a county, rather than county-wide and at ineffective times; roughly $5,000,000 saved due to surveillance information leading to fewer applications. Then, on a sporadic basis if it were to occur, roughly $4,000,000 as the result of retaining the effectiveness of lower cost products over longer periods by assessing and mitigating the development of insecticide resistance; roughly $5,000,000 due to reducing non-target impacts through monitoring, operational changes resulting in more efficient and effective applications, and reduced legal fees that result from non-target impacts.

The total savings due to Florida's research program, estimated by the seven responding districts, is $25,000,000 annually or $34,000,000 were resistance or non-target impacts to occur! This represents an annual savings of $100-136 for every dollar invested in research! The seven districts contacted likely represent about 40% of the total Florida mosquito control budget. Therefore a conservative savings to all of Florida might be in the range of $50,000,000-70,000,000 annually taking into account that the total saved on impoundments applies to only the east coast of Florida.

In summary, for every dollar invested by Florida in mosquito control, research has brought a return of $200-280 annually in savings to Florida's citizens. This is a broad and very rough estimate, but it does clearly show the huge benefits that the Florida mosquito research program has for Florida taxpayers. Consider that this assessment does not include the return to Florida in maintaining Florida's tourist economy that would surely be impacted by a mosquito-borne disease epidemic and the expected decline in tourism that would result. Consider that about 30,000 impounded acres in east Florida have been returned to productive marsh, maintaining their value in the Indian River Lagoon, while preventing the production of literally billions of mosquitoes. Each acre of the lagoon has an estimated $10,000 economic impact. Do the math. This represents an economic benefit of $300,000,000 annually!

This simple survey amply demonstrates mosquito control research has created a huge return on Florida's investment. The Florida mosquito control research program has paid the state back many times over. It is irrefutable that Florida's future success is dependent on Florida's ability to protect the health and well-being of its citizens, and to protect Florida's tourist industry which is central to the State's overall economy. Florida's key to success to protect its thriving economy relies on the sound science provided by the mosquito research program to Florida mosquito control and public health professionals. Florida must re-institute the critical research funding to provide the science required to meet the challenges to mosquito and mosquito-borne disease control.

For every $1 in mosquito research Florida taxpayers conservatively save $200-280 annually! Protecting Florida's tourism economy and maintaining 30,000 acres of productive lagoon marsh actually adds greatly to this estimate. Florida's mosquito research program has repaid Florida's citizens many times over. It is a sound investment for Florida's future that Florida cannot afford to decrease or not support. Next time you are asked, just tell the listener about the huge benefits to Florida that are due to the Florida mosquito research program!

Walter J. Tabachnick, Ph.D.
Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory
Professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology
University of Florida
Vero Beach, FL