A war against mosquitoes?

Well, this was a weird article in Nature that made me think, at least: A world without mosquitoes. I was surprised to learn that there are actually ecologists/entomologists who believe the world would be a better place if we could simply exterminate entire genera of winged pests — that mosquitoes fill a readily replaceable niche, that they make minimal positive contributions to ecosystems, and we’d gain immeasurably from removing animals responsible for so much human suffering. The one thing they also agree on, though, is that there is no way to do it.

And so, while humans inadvertently drive beneficial species, from tuna to corals, to the edge of extinction, their best efforts can’t seriously threaten an insect with few redeeming features. “They don’t occupy an unassailable niche in the environment,” says entomologist Joe Conlon, of the American Mosquito Control Association in Jacksonville, Florida. “If we eradicated them tomorrow, the ecosystems where they are active will hiccup and then get on with life. Something better or worse would take over.”

The article does mention mosquitoes immense contributions to biomass in general in many environments, particularly in the arctic, but this doesn’t seem to perturb the mosquito-haters. It’s odd, since I live in Minnesota, where we get clouds of the bitin’ beasts, and they are regarded as major nuisances…but at the same time everyone understands that they also feed the fish that stock our lakes. I don’t think a widespread mosquito extinction program would be entirely popular.

The commenters on the article seem much more sensible. I was happy to see one quoting Aldo Leopold:

The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.

The article mentions, for instance, that every animal in an arctic caribou herd loses 300 mL of blood a day to the depredations of mosquito swarms, which is definitely horrific for the caribou—but that’s biomass that’s getting transferred to birds and bats and fish. It seems to me that preventing that would be a rather substantial blow against species diversity, even if it did make some big charismatic mammals much more comfortable.