West Nile virus may have hitched a ride across the Western United States on Culex tarsalis mosquitoes.
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West Nile virus spread rapidly from east to west across North America, despite the north-south migratory flyways of its avian hosts. In this issue, Venkatesan & Rasgon (2010) present new data on the population genetics of Culex tarsalis, the dominant West Nile virus vector in the Western United States, suggesting that patterns of mosquito gene flow may better reflect the virus's expansion from the Midwest to the Pacific than patterns of bird movement. These findings suggest a more significant role for vector dispersal in arboviral range expansion than has previously been appreciated, and they highlight the value of molecular genetic studies of insect vector populations for understanding epidemiology and disease ecology.