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Keywords:

  • Culex mosquito;
  • experimental infections;
  • malaria transmission;
  • parasite manipulation;
  • Plasmodium relictum ;
  • vector blood feeding

Abstract

The epidemiology of vector-borne pathogens is largely determined by the host-choice behaviour of their vectors. Here, we investigate whether a Plasmodium infection renders the host more attractive to host-seeking mosquitoes. For this purpose, we work on a novel experimental system: the avian malaria parasite Plasmodium relictum, and its natural vector, the mosquito Culex pipiens. We provide uninfected mosquitoes with a choice between an uninfected bird and a bird undergoing either an acute or a chronic Plasmodium infection. Mosquito choice is assessed by microsatellite typing of the ingested blood. We show that chronically infected birds attract significantly more vectors than either uninfected or acutely infected birds. Our results suggest that malaria parasites manipulate the behaviour of uninfected vectors to increase their transmission. We discuss the underlying mechanisms driving this behavioural manipulation, as well as the broader implications of these effects for the epidemiology of malaria.