Mosquitos – To kill or not to kill, that is the question.

The climate we live in today is one of change. There is a huge debate as to if that change is for the better or worse, but the fact remains the climate is changing. This is not a new phenomenon. The climate has radically changed since the beginning of life some 3.6-3.8 billion years ago. However, no single species has ever been directly responsible for changing the climate – until Homo sapiens rocked up. We are changing the climate so quickly evolution can’t keep up. This means many species are struggling to survive, leading to a significant number of species extinctions. We are very quick to jump to the needs of endangered species, particularly those that are beneficial to us. But what about the species we don’t like? What about mosquitos? How many times have you been on holiday and got a nasty bite, or been forced to religiously take anti-malaria tablets? Mosquitos are irritating disease spreaders, so why don’t we just get rid of them?

When a species is under threat of extinction the typical conservation biologist’s argument is that the species must be conserved because of the impact its removal would have on the ecosystem. But what would happen if we made mosquitos extinct? Mosquitos as we know them have been around for roughly 95 million years. As a result they have well defined interactions with many species. Without mosquitos, some predators would not have prey and some plants would not be pollinated. As with all matters of conservation, the value of the species must be quantified. But the value of mosquitos is highly variable, dependent on the species in question. Often the value of the species to humans is considered most important. Mosquitos have little, if any benefit to humans, direct or otherwise. Furthermore, the theory of evolution would suggest, any niches currently occupied by mosquitos would soon be taken up by other insects.

Findings published this week in “The Lancet” suggest malaria killed a staggering 1.2 million people in 2010. This result emphasises the urgent need for mosquito control and perhaps extinction. The concept of mosquito eradication is not a new one. Many attempts have been made around the world, most famously being the use of DDT in America in the 1940s. In 2010, worldwide malaria control cost around US$1.88 billion for insecticides and $2.09 billion for nets, again emphasising the need for mosquito control. With advancing technologies alternative controls are beginning to be developed and tested. These include RNA interference, male sterilisation and improved chemicals.

Returning to the concept of a world without mosquitos, the result would be a huge reduction in the number of people dying of mosquito-transmitted diseases. This would mean even greater human populations in malaria stricken regions. While many of these countries can barely cope with the social and economic costs of their current population sizes, these costs are unlikely to outweigh the benefits of a larger but healthier population. It seems there is a touch of irony that we are more than capable of threatening the extinction of a species beneficial to us, such as tuna, but we are unable to impact mosquito populations, which come at such a devastating cost to human life.

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4 Responses to Mosquitos – To kill or not to kill, that is the question.

  1. Devo February 6, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    Part of me just wants mosquitoes gone, but another part of me understands that we may be opening up a whole new can of worms by eliminating them. But when it comes to deciding the fate of millions of people living near the equator, I think the people most affected by mosquitoes should have a say in the matter. I agree that to many people, eradication of malaria is worth the likely population boom. And who knows, with greater education and economic freedom, perhaps populations can stabilize themselves.

    • Victoria Ellis February 6, 2012 at 6:41 pm #

      I agree, as with so many issues in this kind of work there are an incredible amount of unknowns! We may well eradicate mosquitoes only to find something much worse takes their place!!! Seems to be the nature of the beast and I cant see us having a solution (i.e. some way of looking into the future – time machine) for it any time soon! Closing our eyes and hoping for the best doesn’t really seem to be good enough, but it seems like all we’ve got right now!

  2. Jack Rivers February 6, 2012 at 8:06 pm #

    Malaria has a very complicated life cycle that requires the digestive tract and saliva ducts of the mosquito. So if we eradicated it, you are correct, it might not be long until another flying insect fills its niche (such as the sand flies that plague New Zealand’s beautiful lands). However, the complexity of the interaction between the eukaryotic protists malaria and the mosquito may have taken millions of years to evolve, so it is not likely that Malaria would continue. Kill the insect, kill the disease.

  3. Kartick Chandra Sahoo November 20, 2013 at 5:30 am #

    If i see ethically,every organism has the right to live on this earth.Every organism has a rule to make better environment.Human being is a part of that system so we should not think to eliminate mosquito completely.If we are eliminating mosquito then it may help us for a short term but if you think a long term view that it wont help you.If we want a complete solution than we have to take out anthropocentric view from our mind.

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