Adaptation to aridity in the malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae: chromosomal inversion polymorphism and body size influence resistance to desiccation

PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e34841. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034841. Epub 2012 Apr 13.


Chromosomal inversions are thought to confer a selective advantage in alternative habitats by protecting co-adapted alleles from recombination. The frequencies of two inversions (2La and 2Rb) of the afro-tropical malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae change gradually along geographical clines, increasing in frequency with degree of aridity. Such clines can result from gene flow and local selection acting upon alternative karyotypes along the cline, suggesting that these inversions may be associated with tolerance to xeric conditions. Since water loss represents a major challenge in xeric habitats, it can be supposed that genes inside these inversions are involved in water homeostasis. To test this hypothesis, we compared the desiccation resistance of alternative karyotypes from a colonised 2Rb/2La polymorphic population of A. gambiae from Cameroon. The strain included only the molecular form S, one of the genetic units marking incipient speciation in this taxon. Day-old mosquitoes of both sexes were assayed individually for time to death in a dry environment and the karyotype of each was determined post-mortem using molecular diagnostic assays for each inversion. In agreement with expectations based on their eco-geographical distribution, we found that 2La homokaryotypes survived significantly longer (1.3 hours) than the other karyotypes. However, there was weak support for the effect of 2Rb on desiccation resistance. Larger mosquitoes survived longer than smaller ones. Median survival of females was greater than males, but the effect of sex on desiccation resistance was weakly supported, indicating that differential survival was correlated to differences between sexes in average size. We found weak evidence for a heterotic effect of 2La karyotype on size in females. These results support the notion that genes located inside the 2La inversion are involved in water balance, contributing towards local adaptation of A. gambiae to xeric habitats, beyond the adaptive value conferred by a larger body size.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anopheles / genetics*
  • Anopheles / physiology
  • Body Size / genetics
  • Body Size / physiology
  • Desiccation
  • Ecosystem
  • Female
  • Gene Flow / genetics
  • Karyotype
  • Malaria / transmission
  • Male
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Regression Analysis
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology