Years of popular science broadcasting (not to mention a few science fiction stories) have inculcated the idea that eradicating any one creature – no matter how undesirable and nasty – from its native ecosystem is to invite the collapse thereof. But that may not necessarily be a universal truth – it turns out that we might be able to wipe out mosquitoes (or at least the human-biting disease vector species thereof) with little risk [via Michael Anissimov]. Might.
… in many cases, scientists acknowledge that the ecological scar left by a missing mosquito would heal quickly as the niche was filled by other organisms. Life would continue as before — or even better. When it comes to the major disease vectors, “it’s difficult to see what the downside would be to removal, except for collateral damage”, says insect ecologist Steven Juliano, of Illinois State University in Normal. A world without mosquitoes would be “more secure for us”, says medical entomologist Carlos Brisola Marcondes from the Federal University of Santa Catarina in Brazil. “The elimination of Anopheles would be very significant for mankind.”
Collateral damage, eh? Poor choice of words, perhaps, given recent events. Still, wiping out some mosquitoes could not only deep-six malaria and dengue (still huge killers in developing nations), but allow the colonisation of huge tracts of land that mosquitoes have made impenetrable, such as the Arctic tundra. But those are exactly the areas where the lack of mosquitoes would have the strongest effect on the ecosystem… so it’s not a decision I’d want to be responsible for, myself.
But one thing’s for sure: if we’re going to kill mosquitoes, we should use frickin’ LASERS.
3 thoughts on “A world without mosquitoes”
I recall that many years (most likely decades) ago I read an article — which I think was in National Geographic — concluding that mosquitoes had no critically-useful function anywhere in the world, except to spread misery. Sounds like that view is still supported. I recall that old article asserting that there were a few plants that were sometimes pollinated by them, but that these same plants were also pollinated by other, less harmful-to-us, insects. Also, some fish ate mosquito larva, but those same fish could live just fine from other sources of food in their environments. (My note: Indeed, the mere existence of mosquitos would seem to be evidence that either God doesn’t exist or, alternatively, that he/she doesn’t especially like us.) I recall that the article’s conclusion was that extinction of mosquitos (much like extinction of smallpox, polio, etc) should be welcomed by humanity. And I, for one, think that we should wipe them out, if we can. (Well ok, I suppose we could maintain a few in tightly-controlled laboratories, for the purposes of research. But let’s eliminate them in the wild, please!)
As one of the commentators below the article pointed out: ‘Is this supposed to be a joke?’ In some regions (like the Arctic tundra) mosquitoes may well be the key pollinators. They are also the key prey species in many aquatic ecosystems (Lake Malawi anyone?) Sure, something will take their place. But a lot of species may follow them into extinction, leaving some ecosystems seriously impoverished.
I’d say stop the silly speculation and concentrate on the problem at hand: the disease vectors. Malaria control is successful in many regions. To me it seems that resources have not been allocated properly when it comes to certain areas (parts of Africa). And if there is a selective way to get rid of the main vectors this is a good thing to do.
Considering that a few large islands (such as Hawaii) did just fine without mosquitos it is possible that eliminating them would do more good than harm.
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