The influence of oviposition status on measures of transmission potential in malaria-infected mosquitoes depends on sugar availability

graphical abstract

Background: Like other oviparous organisms, the gonotrophic cycle of mosquitoes is not complete until they have selected a suitable habitat to oviposit. In addition to the evolutionary constraints associated with selective oviposition behavior, the physiological demands relative to an organism’s oviposition status also influence their nutrient requirement from the environment. Yet, studies that measure transmission potential (vectorial capacity or competence) of mosquito-borne parasites rarely consider whether the rates of parasite replication and development could be influenced by these constraints resulting from whether mosquitoes have completed their gonotrophic cycle.

Methods: Anopheles stephensi mosquitoes were infected with Plasmodium berghei, the rodent analog of human malaria, and maintained on 1% or 10% dextrose and either provided oviposition sites (‘oviposited’ herein) to complete their gonotrophic cycle or forced to retain eggs (‘non-oviposited’). Transmission potential in the four groups was measured up to 27 days post-infection as the rates of (i) sporozoite appearance in the salivary glands (‘extrinsic incubation period’ or EIP), (ii) vector survival and (iii) sporozoite densities.

Results: In the two groups of oviposited mosquitoes, rates of sporozoite appearance and densities in the salivary glands were clearly dependent on sugar availability, with shorter EIP and higher sporozoite densities in mosquitoes fed 10% dextrose. In contrast, rates of appearance and densities in the salivary glands were independent of sugar concentrations in non-oviposited mosquitoes, although both measures were slightly lower than in oviposited mosquitoes fed 10% dextrose. Vector survival was higher in non-oviposited mosquitoes.

Conclusions: Costs to parasite fitness and vector survival were buffered against changes in nutritional availability from the environment in non-oviposited but not oviposited mosquitoes. Taken together, these results suggest vectorial capacity for malaria parasites may be dependent on nutrient availability and oviposition/gonotrophic status and, as such, argue for more careful consideration of this interaction when estimating transmission potential. More broadly, the complex patterns resulting from physiological (nutrition) and evolutionary (egg-retention) trade-offs described here, combined with the ubiquity of selective oviposition behavior, implies the fitness of vector-borne pathogens could be shaped by selection for these traits, with implications for disease transmission and management. For instance, while reducing availability of oviposition sites and environmental sources of nutrition are key components of integrated vector management strategies, their abundance and distribution are under strong selection pressure from the patterns associated with climate change.

Justine C Shiau, Nathan Garcia-Diaz, Dennis E Kyle, Ashutosh K Pathak. Parasit Vectors. 2024 May 23;17(1):236. doi: 10.1186/s13071-024-06317-2.