Population structure, speciation, and introgression in the Anopheles gambiae complex

Parassitologia. 1999 Sep;41(1-3):101-13.


We review here what is known about the population structure and evolutionary dynamics of members of the Anopheles gambiae complex with emphasis on the situation in West Africa. First, the importance of the 2nd chromosome inversion polymorphism is demonstrated especially in adaptation to levels of aridity, a major environmental variable in Africa. This affects the distribution of karyotypes on both a macro- and micro-geographic scale as well as temporally. Such differentiation leads to karyotypes being differentially effective transmitters of malaria and differentially susceptible to indoor residual spraying of insecticides. Second, we review the evidence that cryptic taxa, especially in An. gambiae s.s., exist. This observation stems from both karyotype studies and molecular studies. It is abundantly clear that West African populations of An. gambiae s.s. are often not panmictic units, with premating factors evidently acting to maintain distinct genetic forms. Third, we review phylogenetic studies that have revealed the presence of introgression between the two most important vectors, An. gambiae and An. arabiensis. This is most evident for the 2nd chromosome inversions. This interpretation of phylogenetic data is consistent with a direct laboratory study indicating inversions in this chromosome are stably maintained in back-crossed populations. All of this information has led to the view that members of the An. gambiae complex are highly variable with an abundance of adaptive genetic variation. This presents a significant challenge to vector control programs designed to reduce malaria in sub-Saharan Africa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Africa, Western
  • Animals
  • Anopheles / classification
  • Anopheles / genetics*
  • Chromosomes
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny