HOPE doctoral student takes award for her work on malaria vectors

Candice-Lee Lyons with a selection of mosquito larvae

Ms Candice-Lee Lyons with a selection of mosquito larvae in her laboratory at Stellenbosch University. (Photo credit: Engela Duvenage)

As part of its HOPE project research, the Centre for Invasion Biology (C·I·B) has been working closely with the Malaria Entomology Research Unit of the University of the Witwatersrand (MERU) to understand the basic physiology of two important, southern African malaria vectors, Anopheles arabiensis and Anopheles funestus. How changing climates in Africa will affect malaria prevalence is a significant and controversial question.

The disease is thought to be responsible for, among others, approximately 1 million child deaths per year on the continent. What the outcome will be of interactions between on-going human interventions to reduce the disease and changing climates is not entirely clear. However, some forecasts suggest that in the absence of intervention, changing climates will increase the number of cases in southern Africa. Further to examine this question, the environmental physiology of the two main mosquito vectors of malaria in southern Africa is being investigated. Candice-Lee Lyons will use this information, collected as part of her Ph.D. project, to undertake computer-based modelling of the current and future projected distributions of these species. Much of the laboratory work for this project has been completed.

Candice-Lee used part of this work for her presentation entitled ‘Development rate and temperature relationships of two malaria vectors Anopheles arabiensis and Anopheles funestus’, at the recent Zoological Society of Southern Africa Conference. It was this talk which garnered her the award for the best student presentation. Together with her supervisors, Prof. Steven L. Chown (C·I·B) , Prof. Maureen Coetzee (MERU), and Dr. John S. Terblanche (Stellenbosch Univ.), Candice-Lee will now use her data to determine just what might be expected of the vectors in the future as climates change.

This work is closely linked to additional projects being undertaken by the C·I·B and its collaborators investigating climate change impacts on important species. These include tsetse, the vectors of nagana and sleeping sickness (with Dr. Terblanche of SU and HOPE M.Sc. student Elsje Kleynhans), and a significant biological control agent of Kariba weed (HOPE M.Sc. student Jessica Allen, in collaboration with the South African Sugarcane Research Institute, which cultures the agent for release). These are significant questions for human health and development in the region. Answering them will contribute to the HOPE projectís goals of improving livelihoods in the region in a sustainable manner.