Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Opinion

Selection of mosquito life-histories: a hidden weapon against malaria?

Heather M Ferguson1*, Nicolas Maire23, Willem Takken4, Issa N Lyimo5, Olivier Briët23, Steve W Lindsay6 and Thomas A Smith23

Author Affiliations

1 Boyd Orr Centre for Population and Ecosystem Health, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8Q, UK

2 Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, PO Box, CH-4002, Basel, Switzerland

3 University of Basel, PO Box, CH-4003, Basel, Switzerland

4 Laboratory of Entomology, Wageningen University, 6700 EH Wageningen, The Netherlands

5 Biomedical and Environmental Thematic Group, Ifakara Health Institute, Ifakara, PO Box 53, Tanzania

6 School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Durham University, Durham DH1 3LE, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

Malaria Journal 2012, 11:106  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-11-106

Published: 3 April 2012



There has recently been a substantial decline in malaria incidence in much of Africa. While the decline can clearly be linked to increasing coverage of mosquito vector control interventions and effective drug treatment in most settings, the ubiquity of reduction raises the possibility that additional ecological and associated evolutionary changes may be reinforcing the effectiveness of current vector control strategies in previously unanticipated ways.

Presentation of hypothesis

Here it is hypothesized that the increasing coverage of insecticide-treated bed nets and other vector control methods may be driving selection for a shift in mosquito life history that reduces their ability to transmit malaria parasites. Specifically it is hypothesized that by substantially increasing the extrinsic rate of mortality experienced in vector populations, these interventions are creating a fitness incentive for mosquitoes to re-allocate their resources towards greater short-term reproduction at the expense of longer-term survival. As malaria transmission is fundamentally dependent on mosquito survival, a life history shift in this direction would greatly benefit control.

Testing the hypothesis

At present, direct evaluation of this hypothesis within natural vector populations presents several logistical and methodological challenges. In the meantime, many insights can be gained from research previously conducted on wild Drosophila populations. Long-term selection experiments on these organisms suggest that increasing extrinsic mortality by a magnitude similar to that anticipated from the up-scaling of vector control measures generated an increase in their intrinsic mortality rate. Although this increase was small, a change of similar magnitude in Anopheles vector populations would be predicted to reduce malaria transmission by 80%.

Implications of hypothesis

The hypothesis presented here provides a reminder that evolutionary processes induced by interventions against disease vectors may not always act to neutralize intervention effectiveness. In the search for new intervention strategies, consideration should be given to both the potential disadvantages and advantages of evolutionary processes resulting from their implementation, and attempts made to exploit those with greatest potential to enhance control.

Anopheles vectors; Life history evolution; Malaria; Insecticide-treated bed nets; Extrinsic mortality; Natural selection