Background: The molecular forms of Anopheles gambiae are undergoing speciation. They are characterized by a strong assortative mating and they display partial habitat segregation. The M form is mostly found in flooded/irrigated areas whereas the S form dominates in the surrounding areas, but the ecological factors that shape this habitat segregation are not known. Resource competition has been demonstrated between species undergoing divergent selection, but resource competition is not the only factor that can lead to divergence.
Results: In a field experiment using transplantation of first instar larvae, we evaluated the role of larval predators in mediating habitat segregation between the forms. We found a significant difference in the ability of the molecular forms to exploit the different larval sites conditioned on the presence of predators. In absence of predation, the molecular forms outcompeted each other in their respective natural habitats however, the developmental success of the M form was significantly higher than that of the S form in both habitats under predator pressure.
Conclusion: Our results provide the first empirical evidence for specific adaptive differences between the molecular forms and stress the role of larval predation as one of the mechanisms contributing to their divergence.