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J Exp Biol. 2007 Aug;210(Pt 16):2939-47.

Nature beats nurture: a case study of the physiological fitness of free-living and laboratory-reared male Anopheles gambiae s.l.

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Public Health Entomology Unit, Ifakara Health Research and Development Centre, PO Box 53, Off Mlabani Passage Ifakara, Tanzania.


Laboratory experimentation forms the basis for most of our knowledge of the biology of many organisms, in particular insects. However, the accuracy with which laboratory-derived estimates of insect life history and behaviour can predict their fitness and population dynamics in the wild is rarely validated. Such comparison is especially important in cases where laboratory-derived information is used to formulate and implement strategies for the genetic control of insects in nature. We have conducted a comparative study of the reproductive potential and life history of male Anopheles gambiae Gilies sensu lato mosquitoes from both standardized laboratory conditions and from natural field settings. We measured three indirect indicators of male mosquito fitness: energetic reserves, body size and survival, in a bid to determine whether the demographics and energetic limitations of wild males can be correctly predicted from their laboratory counterparts. Crucially, the body size and lipid reserves of wild males were substantially greater than those reared under standard laboratory conditions. We caution that the energetic limitations of insects as identified in the laboratory may underestimate their resilience in the wild, and discuss the implications of this phenomenon with respect to vector-borne disease control programmes based on genetic control of mosquitoes.

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