Transmission success of the malaria parasite Plasmodium mexicanum into its vector: role of gametocyte density and sex ratio

J.J.  SCHALL  a1 c1
a1 Department of Biology, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont 05405, USA


The life-cycle of Plasmodium depends on transmission of the parasite from the vertebrate host into its vector when the insect takes a bloodmeal. Transmission success may depend in part on the parasite's gametocyte density and sex ratio in the blood. P. mexicanum, a parasite of fence lizards in California, USA, exploits the sandfly Lutzomyia vexator as its vector. In experimental transmissions using naturally infected lizards as donors of blood, transmission success (measured as percentage of vectors infected and number of parasite oocysts on the insect's midgut) was positively related to gametocyte density, although density above 20/1000 erythrocytes did not improve transmission. Sex ratio (proportion of microgametocytes in the infection) was positively correlated with gametocyte density. Transmission improved with higher proportion of microgametocytes, but partial correlations revealed that this was a result only of higher gametocyte densities. These results agree with the theory of virulence and sex ratios because single clone infections should produce a more female-biased sex ratio and grow to the minimum parasitaemia that would maximize clonal transmission, whereas multiple clone infections will be closer to a 1[ratio]1 sex ratio and yield a higher parasitaemia when each clone competes for transmission to the vector.

(Received February 18 2000)
(Revised June 7 2000)
(Accepted June 12 2000)

Key Words: Plasmodium; malaria; sex ratio; gametocytes; lizard malaria; transmission success.

c1 Tel: +802 656 0448. Fax: +802 656 2914. E-mail: