Background: The mosquito Anopheles gambiae is broadly distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa and this contributes to making it the most efficient vector of malaria on the continent. The pervasiveness of this species is hypothesized to originate in local adaptations facilitated by inversion polymorphisms. One inversion, named 2La, is strongly associated with aridity clines in West and Central Africa: while 2La is fixed in arid savannas, the 2L+a arrangement is predominantly found in the rainforest. Ability to survive high temperature exposure is an essential component of aridity tolerance, particularly in immature stages that are restricted to shallow puddles. Toward deciphering the role of the 2La inversion in local adaptation, the present investigation focused on variation in larval and pupal thermo-tolerance in two populations dissimilar solely in 2La arrangement.
Methods: A laboratory colony of A. gambiae that is polymorphic for 2La but standard for all other known inversions was used to create 2 homokaryotypic populations (2L+a and 2La). The survival of 4th instar larvae and pupae from both populations was then tested following exposure to thermal stress with and without prior heat hardening.
Results: Larvae responded identically to a 40 degrees C heat stress, with about 50% of larvae dying after 1.5-2 h and few larvae surviving a 3 h stress. When heat hardened prior to the thermal stress, thermo-tolerance of both larval populations increased, with 2La 24 h survival significantly exceeding that of 2L+a. Pupae were generally more thermo-tolerant than larvae, although 2La pupae were less so than 2L+a. Heat hardening had no positive effect on pupal thermo-tolerance.
Conclusion: The increased thermo-tolerance observed in 2La larvae following heat hardening suggests higher responsiveness (i.e., thermal sensitivity) of the inverted karyotype. By responding more drastically to the heat shock, 2La larvae are better equipped to resist the potentially lethal temperatures that occur in arid habitats. The lower survival of 2La pupae compared with 2L+a may reflect the cost of this sensitivity, whereby the thermal resistance mechanisms prevent successful completion of metamorphosis. The costs and benefits of thermal resistance are discussed in light of the climates characterizing either end of the 2La frequency cline.