Sarah: My daughter is a mosquito magnet. If there’s a mozzie within a 5km radius* of her bare skin, it will track her down and feed with fury.
For her, twilight games of backyard cricket require physical barriers in the form of long sleeves, leggings and socks. Not ideal in the heat of an Australian summer.
This morning she spotted a little winged drone as we drove to school holiday activities — inside the car! With the window rapidly thrown open, she managed to flush it outside. And sighed.
“Mum….do mosquitoes actually do anything good for our environment?”
I knew just the bloke to ask. Proceed direct to twitter. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.
A quick tweet from someone at a science centre on the San Juan Islands provided my first bit of new info:
Bat food! (among other things) — Kwiaht (@Kwiaht) December 8, 2014
Then up popped Dr Cameron Webb.
As well as good for frogs, fish, birds, bats and lots of insects they may also be pollinators of some plants! — Dr Cameron Webb (@Mozziebites) December 8, 2014
Another tweeter was also interested, evolutionary biologist Steven Vamosi.
Any hard data on meaningful impairment to ecosystem function when they are excluded/absent? — Steven Vamosi (@smvamosi) December 8, 2014
Basically he was asking, ‘Are there any measurements of ecosystem health in places where mosquitoes have been removed?’ In other words, do we even know how important mosquitoes are to our world? Cameron replied:
Zero. I’m not aware of any such study. Complicated given diversity of mozzie fauna too — Dr Cameron Webb (@Mozziebites) December 8, 2014
Steve again (ty is twitter shorthand for thank you):
Ty & indeed, but urgent need for data like that, as we present case to public about imp. of biodiversity — Steven Vamosi (@smvamosi) December 8, 2014
And Cameron agreed right back:
Yes, information important for balancing environmental protection and human health in mosquito control too — Dr Cameron Webb (@Mozziebites) December 8, 2014
So there we had it. In short, my dear daughter, mosquitoes do make a positive contribution to our environment. But we need more information to understand this better. And we particularly need more information when it comes to the kinds of mosquitoes that spread not just itchiness but deadly diseases like malaria.
We can achieve this through scientific study. As an example, here’s some more reading from Cameron’s blog about how he has performed studies looking at the importance of mosquitoes in bat diets: what do bats eat more often, mosquitoes or moths?
*probably an exaggeration