A study was undertaken to identify the major larval habitats of the Anopheles gambiae (Giles) complex in rural Gambia. Mosquito larvae and pupae were sampled along transects and in specific habitats in the central region of the country during the rainy seasons of 1996 and 1997. The sampling showed that the major breeding sites were located on the flooded alluvial soils bordering the river. The largest numbers of larvae were found during September, one month after the peak rains. Polymerase chain reaction analysis of specimens showed that Anopheles melas (Theobald) was the dominant species in the flooded areas (81.5%), followed by A. gambiae sensu stricto (Giles) (18.0%) and A. arabiensis (Patton) (0.5%). By sampling in specific habitats it was evident that A. arabiensis was mainly breeding in rain-fed rice fields along the edge of the alluvial soils. Anopheles melas and A. gambiae s.s. often coexisted but whereas A. melas were found in water with a salinity of up to 72% sea water (25.2 g NaCl l(-1)), A. gambiae s.s. only occurred in water with up to 30% sea water (10.5 g NaCl l(-1)). Anopheles melas larvae were found in association with plant communities dominated by sedges and grasses (Eleocharis sp., Paspalum sp., Sporobolus sp.) and sea-purslane Sesuvium portulacastrum (L.) and the presence of cattle hoof prints, whereas A. gambiae s.s. larvae mainly occurred in association with Paspalum sp. and Eleocharis sp. The study showed that even during the peak rainy season, breeding of the A. gambiae complex is almost entirely restricted to the extensive alluvial areas along the river.
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