Background: Transmission of malaria in the highlands of Ethiopia is poorly understood and usually attributed to importation by mobile populations or local transmission by Anopheles arabiensis. To characterize and identify Anopheles species present in a highland area of northern Ethiopia, adult and larval collections were performed in Gondar town and the neighboring Senbet Debir village (Dembia district, > 2000 meters above sea level, masl), in addition to Bahir Dar town (capital of Amhara region) and Kumer Aftit village (Metema district, < 2000 masl).
Methods: CDC-light traps were used to collect adult mosquitoes and larval collections were performed from rain pools for rearing into adults for species identification. Collections were made September-March 2016-2018. Adult mosquitoes were identified morphologically and a subset of randomly chosen specimens were identified to species by sequencing the ribosomal DNA internal transcribed spacer region 2 (ITS2) and mitochondrial DNA cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (cox1).
Results: The primary species of Anopheles identified at elevations higher than 2000 masl was An. cinereus, which was confirmed molecularly by ITS2 and cox1 sequencing. Interestingly, two unknown species were also sequenced, in addition to two specimens of An. pretoriensis. The species collected at sites with elevations less than 2000 masl (Bahir Dar town and Kumer Aftit village) was An. arabiensis. Three Plasmodium falciparum-positive specimens were identified molecularly as An. cinereus.
Conclusions: The presence of Plasmodium-positive An. cinereus in areas greater than 2000 masl incriminates this species as a potential vector contributing to non-peak malaria transmission in Ethiopian highland areas.
Keywords: Anopheles; Ethiopia; Malaria; Residual transmission.