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Fitness consequences of altered feeding behavior in immune-challenged mosquitoes

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  • Johanna R. Ohm
  • Janet Teeple
  • William A. Nelson
  • Matthew B. Thomas
  • Andrew F. Read
  • Lauren J. Cator


Publication details

JournalParasites and Vectors
DateAccepted/In press - 18 Feb 2016
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 29 Feb 2016
Issue number1
Early online date29/02/16
Original languageEnglish


Background: Malaria-infected mosquitoes have been reported to be more likely to take a blood meal when parasites are infectious than when non-infectious. This change in feeding behavior increases the likelihood of malaria transmission, and has been considered an example of parasite manipulation of host behavior. However, immune challenge with heat-killed Escherichia coli induces the same behavior, suggesting that altered feeding behavior may be driven by adaptive responses of hosts to cope with an immune response, rather than by parasite-specific factors. Here we tested the alternative hypothesis that down-regulated feeding behavior prior to infectiousness is a mosquito adaptation that increases fitness during infection. Methods: We measured the impact of immune challenge and blood feeding on the fitness of individual mosquitoes. After an initial blood meal, Anopheles stephensi Liston mosquitoes were experimentally challenged with heat-killed E. coli at a dose known to mimic the same temporal changes in mosquito feeding behavior as active malaria infection. We then tracked daily egg production and survivorship of females maintained on blood-feeding regimes that either mimicked down-regulated feeding behaviors observed during early malaria infection, or were fed on a four-day feeding cycle typically associated with uninfected mosquitoes. Results: Restricting access to blood meals enhanced mosquito survival but lowered lifetime reproduction. Immune-challenge did not impact either fitness component. Combining fecundity and survival to estimate the population-scale intrinsic rate of increase (r), we found that, contrary to the mosquito adaptation hypothesis, mosquito fitness decreased if blood feeding was delayed following an immune challenge. Conclusions: Our data provide no support for the idea that malaria-induced suppression of blood feeding is an adaptation by mosquitoes to reduce the impact of immune challenge. Alternatively, the behavioral alterations may be neither host nor parasite adaptations, but rather a consequence of constraints imposed on feeding by activation of the mosquito immune response, i.e. non-adaptive illness-induced anorexia. Future work incorporating field conditions and different immune challenges could further clarify the effect of altered feeding on mosquito and parasite fitness.

Bibliographical note

© 2016, The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • Anopheles, Fitness, Malaria, Parasite manipulation, Sickness behavior

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