The eggs of the dengue fever vector Aedes aegypti possess the ability to undergo an extended quiescence period hosting a fully developed first instar larvae within its chorion. As a result of this life history stage, pharate larvae can withstand months of dormancy inside the egg where they depend on stored reserves of maternal origin. This adaptation known as pharate first instar quiescence, allows A. aegypti to cope with fluctuations in water availability. An examination of this fundamental adaptation has shown that there are trade-offs associated with it.
Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are frequently associated with urban habitats that may contain metal pollution. My research has demonstrated that the duration of this quiescence and the extent of nutritional depletion associated with it affects the physiology and survival of larvae that hatch in a suboptimal habitat; nutrient reserves decrease during pharate first instar quiescence and alter subsequent larval and adult fitness. The duration of quiescence compromises metal tolerance physiology and is coupled to a decrease in metallothionein mRNA levels. My findings also indicate that even low levels of environmentally relevant larval metal stress alter the parameters that determine vector capacity.
My research has also demonstrated that extended pharate first instar quiescence can elicit a plastic response resulting in an adult phenotype distinct from adults reared from short quiescence eggs. Extended pharate first instar quiescence affects the performance and reproductive fitness of the adult female mosquito as well as the nutritional status of its progeny via maternal effects in an adaptive manner, i.e., anticipatory phenotypic plasticity results as a consequence of the duration of pharate first instar quiescence and alternative phenotypes may exist for this mosquito with quiescence serving as a cue possibly signaling the environmental conditions that follow a dry period. M findings may explain, in part, A. aegypti’s success as a vector and its geographic distribution and have implications for its vector capacity and control.