Background: A dramatic decline in the incidence of malaria due to Plasmodium falciparum infection in coastal East Africa has recently been reported to be paralleled (or even preceded) by an equally dramatic decline in malaria vector density, despite absence of organized vector control. As part of investigations into possible causes for the change in vector population density, the present study analysed the Anopheles gambiae s.l. sibling species composition in north-eastern Tanzania.
Methods: The study was in two parts. The first compared current species complex composition in freshly caught An. gambiae s.l. complex from three villages to the composition reported from previous studies carried out 2-4 decades ago in the same villages. The second took advantage of a sample of archived dried An. gambiae s.l. complex specimens collected regularly from a fourth study village since 2005. Both fresh and archived dried specimens were identified to sibling species of the An. gambiae s.l. complex by PCR. The same specimens were moreover examined for Plasmodium falciparum and Wuchereria bancrofti infection by PCR.
Results: As in earlier studies, An. gambiae s.s., Anopheles merus and Anopheles arabiensis were identified as sibling species found in the area. However, both study parts indicated a marked change in sibling species composition over time. From being by far the most abundant in the past An. gambiae s.s. was now the most rare, whereas An. arabiensis had changed from being the most rare to the most common. P. falciparum infection was rarely detected in the examined specimens (and only in An. arabiensis) whereas W. bancrofti infection was prevalent and detected in all three sibling species.
Conclusion: The study indicates that a major shift in An. gambiae s.l. sibling species composition has taken place in the study area in recent years. Combined with the earlier reported decline in overall malaria vector density, the study suggests that this decline has been most marked for An. gambiae s.s., and least for An. arabiensis, leading to current predominance of the latter. Due to differences in biology and vectorial capacity of the An. gambiae s.l. complex the change in sibling species composition will have important implications for the epidemiology and control of malaria and lymphatic filariasis in the study area.