The mosquito: a creature that won’t be missed

Aug 12, 2010
Jonathan Harwood

Eradicating the insects that spread malaria would not have the environmental impact people might expect

With malaria killing more than a million and infecting a quarter of a billion people each year, and other insect-borne diseases like dengue fever and yellow fever threatening the health of countless others, some scientists believe that efforts should be made to wipe mosquitoes from the face of the earth.
A recent report in the scientific journal Nature warns that efforts to destroy the many different species of mosquito that live on the planet could have unexpected consequences - but, perhaps surprisingly, scientists are not unduly concerned by the effects of wiping out the biting insects.
Medical entomologist Janet McAllister claims: "If there was a benefit to having them around, we would have found a way to exploit them. We haven't wanted anything from mosquitoes except for them to go away."
Experts believe the hole left behind in the eco-system would be small quickly filled by other species. "It's difficult to see what the downside would be to removal, except for collateral damage," said insect ecologist Steven Juliano.
However, there will be some consequences if mosquitoes disappear altogether. Take the caribou. Mosquitoes take up to 300ml of blood from every caribou in a herd each day and in response the herds will walk into the wind in order to escape the swarms.
Without the dreaded mozzies, the caribou would roam where they wanted, which would in turn affect the rest of the eco-system.
Mosquitoes are too small to be missed by predators such as birds and insectovore bats: they rely on larger insects for most of their diet.
But without mosquitoes, many thousands of plant species would lose pollinators. However, they do not include any crops on which humans depend.
One final word of caution: mosquitoes have been on the planet for 170 million years - 34 times longer than humans. Some scientists fear that if they were completely eradicated nature would find a way to surprise us, perhaps replacing the mosquito with something even more pernicious.

That is not going to stop those researchers who are determined that only good will come of the insect's eradication, however difficult it may be to achieve.

Biologist Olivia Judson pointed out in 2003 that the destruction of just 30 mosquito species would save a million human lives every year.

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