The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1475-2875-11-106) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
All authors contributed to the development of this hypothesis, and provided comments on the manuscript. HMF and TAS drafted the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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- Selection of mosquito life-histories: a hidden weapon against malaria?
Heather M Ferguson
Issa N Lyimo
Steve W Lindsay
Thomas A Smith
- BioMed Central
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