Using Stable Isotopes of Carbon and Nitrogen to Mark Wild Populations of Anopheles and Aedes Mosquitoes in South-Eastern Tanzania. Academic Article uri icon


  • BACKGROUND: Marking wild mosquitoes is important for understanding their ecology, behaviours and role in disease transmission. Traditional insect marking techniques include using fluorescent dyes, protein labels, radioactive labels and tags, but such techniques have various limitations; notably low marker retention and inability to mark wild mosquitoes at source. Stable isotopes are gaining wide spread use for non-invasive marking of arthropods, permitting greater understanding of mosquito dispersal and responses to interventions. We describe here a simple technique for marking naturally-breeding malaria and dengue vectors using stable isotopes of nitrogen (15N) and carbon (13C), and describe potential field applications. METHODS: We created man-made aquatic mosquito habitats and added either 15N-labelled potassium nitrate or 13C-labelled glucose, leaving non-adulterated habitats as controls. We then allowed wild mosquitoes to lay eggs in these habitats and monitored their development in situ. Pupae were collected promptly as they appeared and kept in netting cages. Emergent adults (in pools of ~4 mosquitoes/pool) and individually stored pupae were desiccated and analysed using Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS). FINDINGS: Anopheles gambiae s.l and Aedes spp. from enriched 13C and enriched 15N larval habitats had significantly higher isotopic levels than controls (P = 0.005), and both isotopes produced sufficient distinction between marked and unmarked mosquitoes. Mean 15N for enriched females and males were 275.665.1 and 248.054.6, while mean 15N in controls were 2.10.1 and 3.91.7 respectively. Similarly, mean 13C for enriched females and males were 36.085.28 and 38.56.86, compared to -4.30.2 and -7.93.6 in controls respectively. Mean 15N and 13C was significantly higher in any pool containing at least one enriched mosquito compared to pools with all unenriched mosquitoes, P<0.001. In all cases, there were variations in standardized isotopic ratios between mosquito species. CONCLUSION: Enrichment of semi-natural mosquito larval habitats with stable isotopes of nitrogen and carbon resulted in effective marking of Anopheles and Aedes mosquitoes colonizing these habitats. This approach can significantly enhance studies on mosquito eco-physiology, dispersal, pathogen transmission and responses to control measures.

published proceedings

  • PLoS One

altmetric score

  • 3.85

author list (cited authors)

  • Opiyo, M. A., Hamer, G. L., Lwetoijera, D. W., Auckland, L. D., Majambere, S., & Okumu, F. O.

citation count

  • 15

complete list of authors

  • Opiyo, Mercy A||Hamer, Gabriel L||Lwetoijera, Dickson W||Auckland, Lisa D||Majambere, Silas||Okumu, Fredros O

editor list (cited editors)

  • Pinto, J.

publication date

  • July 2016