Oil palm expansion increases the vectorial capacity of dengue vectors in Malaysian Borneo

PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2022 Mar 16;16(3):e0009525. doi: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0009525. eCollection 2022 Mar.


Changes in land-use and the associated shifts in environmental conditions can have large effects on the transmission and emergence of mosquito-borne disease. Mosquito-borne disease are particularly sensitive to these changes because mosquito growth, reproduction, survival and susceptibility to infection are all thermally sensitive traits, and land use change dramatically alters local microclimate. Predicting disease transmission under environmental change is increasingly critical for targeting mosquito-borne disease control and for identifying hotspots of disease emergence. Mechanistic models offer a powerful tool for improving these predictions. However, these approaches are limited by the quality and scale of temperature data and the thermal response curves that underlie predictions. Here, we used fine-scale temperature monitoring and a combination of empirical, laboratory and temperature-dependent estimates to estimate the vectorial capacity of Aedes albopictus mosquitoes across a tropical forest-oil palm plantation conversion gradient in Malaysian Borneo. We found that fine-scale differences in temperature between logged forest and oil palm plantation sites were not sufficient to produce differences in temperature-dependent demographic trait estimates using published thermal performance curves. However, when measured under field conditions a key parameter, adult abundance, differed significantly between land-use types, resulting in estimates of vectorial capacity that were 1.5 times higher in plantations than in forests. The prediction that oil palm plantations would support mosquito populations with higher vectorial capacity was robust to uncertainties in our adult survival estimates. These results provide a mechanistic basis for understanding the effects of forest conversion to agriculture on mosquito-borne disease risk, and a framework for interpreting emergent relationships between land-use and disease transmission. As the burden of Ae. albopictus-vectored diseases, such as dengue virus, increases globally and rising demand for palm oil products drives continued expansion of plantations, these findings have important implications for conservation, land management and public health policy at the global scale.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aedes*
  • Animals
  • Borneo
  • Dengue*
  • Forests
  • Mosquito Vectors

Grants and funding

This study was supported by an Imperial College London Grantham Institute for Climate Change Research Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet doctoral training program (SSCP DTP) studentship awarded to NG, and Sime Darby Foundation funding to the SAFE Project. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.