Geographically extensive larval surveys reveal an unexpected scarcity of primary vector mosquitoes in a region of persistent malaria transmission in western Zambia

Donall Cross, Chris Thomas, Niall McKeown, Vincent Siaziyu, Amy Healey, Tom Willis, Douglas Singini, Francis Liywalii, Andrew Silumesii, Jacob Sakala, Mark Smith, Mark Macklin, Andy Hardy, Paul Shaw

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The Barotse floodplains of the upper Zambezi River and its tributaries are a highly dynamic environment, with seasonal flooding and transhumance presenting a shifting mosaic of potential larval habitat and human and livestock blood meals for malaria vector mosquitoes. However, limited entomological surveillance has been undertaken to characterize the vector community in these floodplains and their environs. Such information is necessary as, despite substantial deployment of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS) against Anopheles vectors, malaria transmission persists across Barotseland in Zambia’s Western Province.

Geographically extensive larval surveys were undertaken in two health districts along 102 km of transects, at fine spatial resolution, during a dry season and following the peak of the successive wet season. Larvae were sampled within typical Anopheles flight range of human settlements and identified through genetic sequencing of cytochrome c oxidase I and internal transcribed spacer two regions of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA. This facilitated detailed comparison of taxon-specific abundance patterns between ecological zones differentiated by hydrological controls.

An unexpected paucity of primary vectors was revealed, with An. gambiae s.l. and An. funestus representing < 2% of 995 sequenced anophelines. Potential secondary vectors predominated in the vector community, primarily An. coustani group species and An. squamosus. While the distribution of An. gambiae s.l. in the study area was highly clustered, secondary vector species were ubiquitous across the landscape in both dry and wet seasons, with some taxon-specific relationships between abundance and ecological zones by season.

The diversity of candidate vector species and their high relative abundance observed across diverse hydro-ecosystems indicate a highly adaptable transmission system, resilient to environmental variation and, potentially, interventions that target only part of the vector community. Larval survey results imply that residual transmission of malaria in Barotseland is being mediated predominantly by secondary vector species, whose known tendencies for crepuscular and outdoor biting renders them largely insensitive to prevalent vector control methods.
Original languageEnglish
Article number91
Number of pages14
JournalParasites & Vectors
Issue number1
Early online date01 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2021


  • Anopheles
  • COI
  • Exophagy
  • ITS2
  • Larvae
  • Malaria
  • Primary vector
  • Residual transmission
  • Secondary vector


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