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Curr Biol. 2010 Jan 26;20(2):131-6. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.11.040. Epub 2009 Dec 31.

"Singing on the wing" as a mechanism for species recognition in the malarial mosquito Anopheles gambiae.

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School of Life Sciences, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QG, UK.

Erratum in

  • Curr Biol. 2010 Feb 9;20(3):278.


Anopheles gambiae, responsible for the majority of malaria deaths annually, is a complex of seven species and several chromosomal/molecular forms. The complexity of malaria epidemiology and control is due in part to An. gambiae's remarkable genetic plasticity, enabling its adaptation to a range of human-influenced habitats. This leads to rapid ecological speciation when reproductive isolation mechanisms develop [1-6]. Although reproductive isolation is essential for speciation, little is known about how it occurs in sympatric populations of incipient species [2]. We show that in such a population of "M" and "S" molecular forms, a novel mechanism of sexual recognition (male-female flight-tone matching [7-9]) also confers the capability of mate recognition, an essential precursor to assortative mating; frequency matching occurs more consistently in same-form pairs than in mixed-form pairs (p = 0.001). [corrected] Furthermore, the key to frequency matching is "difference tones" produced in the nonlinear vibrations of the antenna by the combined flight tones of a pair of mosquitoes and detected by the Johnston's organ. By altering their wing-beat frequencies to minimize these difference tones, mosquitoes can match flight-tone harmonic frequencies above their auditory range. This is the first description of close-range mating interactions in incipient An. gambiae species.

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