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The effect of larval nutritional deprivation on the life history and DDT resistance phenotype in laboratory strains of the malaria vector Anopheles arabiensis

Shüné V Oliver12 and Basil D Brooke12*

Author Affiliations

1 Vector Control Reference Laboratory, Centre for Opportunistic, Tropical and Hospital Infections, National Institute for Communicable Disease, 1 Modderfontein Road, Sandringham, Johannesburg, South Africa

2 Malaria Entomology Research Unit, School of Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, 7 York Road, Parktown, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Malaria Journal 2013, 12:44  doi:10.1186/1475-2875-12-44

Published: 1 February 2013



Anopheles arabiensis is a major malaria vector in Africa. It thrives in agricultural areas and has been associated with increased malaria incidence in areas under rice and maize cultivation. This effect may be due to increased adult size and abundance as a consequence of optimal larval nutrition. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of larval nutrition on the life history and expression of insecticide resistance in adults of laboratory reared An. arabiensis.


Larvae drawn from an insecticide susceptible An. arabiensis strain (SENN) as well as a DDT-resistant strain (SENN-DDT) were subjected to three fasting regimes: 1 mg of food per larva offered once per day, once every second day and once every third day. Control cohorts included larvae offered 1 mg food thrice per day. The rate of larval development was compared between matched cohorts from each strain as well as between fasted larvae and their respective controls. The expression of DDT resistance/tolerance in adults was compared between the starved cohorts and their controls by strain. Factors potentially affecting variation in DDT resistance/tolerance were examined including: adult body size (wing length), knock-down resistance (kdr) status and levels of detoxification enzyme activity.

Results and conclusion

Anopheles arabiensis larval development is prolonged by nutrient deprivation and adults that eclose from starved larvae are smaller and less tolerant to DDT intoxication. This effect on DDT tolerance in adults is also associated with reduced detoxification enzyme activity. Conversely, well fed larvae develop comparatively quickly into large, more DDT tolerant (SENN) or resistant (SENN-DDT) adults. This is important in those instances where cereal farming is associated with increased An. arabiensis transmitted malaria incidence, because large adult females with high teneral reserves and decreased susceptibility to insecticide intoxication may also prove to be more efficient malaria vectors. In general, larval nutrient deprivation in An. arabiensis has important implications for subsequent adults in terms of their size and relative insecticide susceptibility, which may in turn impact on their malaria vector capacity in areas where insecticide based control measures are in place.

Anopheles arabiensis; Larval nutrition; DDT resistance; Adult body size