Mosquito transmitted pathogens have an enormous impact of human health. A substantial amount of funding and resources are being spent to control the transmission of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. In many ways this investment is paying off. Innovative and exciting new strategies and technologies have been developed to help combat these plagues. Improving our knowledge of mosquito behaviour and ecology will help us effectively control disease. Our research aims to improve understanding of mosquito behaviour and how behaviour mediates interactions with other organisms, the parasites that they transmit, and the dynamic world that they live in.
Sex in a Swarm
Most medically important
mosquitoes mate in aerial swarms. The aggregations are primarily composed
of males with fewer numbers of female entering and mating. The entire mating
event occurs in flight and in a matter of seconds. Despite the
importance of mating in mosquito biology and the many control tools targeting
reproductive biology, we understand relatively little about what is going on in
these swarms. Currently most of the projects in the lab focus on these aggregations and the behavioral ecology of mating.
When male and female meet in flight they alter their flight tone (that annoying buzz they beat their wings). They change the frequency of their flight tone to match at overtones. We have found that males adjust this response depending on the perceived quality of females and that harmonic convergence signals appear to be correlated with heritable mating success. Better understanding these putative courtship signals may help us answer some long standing questions about what happens in mosquito mating swarms.
To what degree does the female instead of the male determine the identity of successful males?
A major challenge to understanding what happens in swarms is the high speed at which they occur. We are developing tools that allow us to more precisely measure these behaviours. We developed a system that allows for synchronized high-speed video and audio recording of male and female interactions. We have found that while males are aggressive and persistent females are able to refuse matings. (See more of Andy's awesome videos here)
Control of Ae. aegypti populations is vital for reducing the transmission of several pervasive human diseases. The success of new vector control technologies will be influenced by the fitness of laboratory-reared transgenic males. However, there has been relatively little published data on how rearing practices influence male fitness in Aedes mosquitoes. In laboratory experiments we have found that larval food availability was demonstrated to be positively correlated with adult body size, survival, and increased swarming activity. However, we also found that within a swarm larger males did not have an increased likelihood of copulating with a female. These results suggest that while increasing larval diet may improve the opportunities for males (increased swarming and survival).