Malaria remains a significant public health issue in South America. Future climate change may influence the distribution of the disease, which is dependent on the distribution of those Anopheles mosquitoes competent to transmit Plasmodium falciparum. Herein, predictive niche models of the habitat suitability for P. falciparum, the current primary vector Anopheles darlingi and nine other known and/or potential vector species of the Neotropical Albitarsis Complex, were used to document the current situation and project future scenarios under climate changes in South America in 2070.
To build each ecological niche model, we employed topography, climate and biome, and the currently defined distribution of P. falciparum, An. darlingi and nine species comprising the Albitarsis Complex in South America. Current and future (i.e., 2070) distributions were forecast by projecting the fitted ecological niche model onto the current environmental situation and two scenarios of simulated climate change. Statistical analyses were performed between the parasite and each vector in both the present and future scenarios to address potential vector roles in the dynamics of malaria transmission.
Current distributions of malaria vector species were associated with that of P. falciparum, confirming their role in transmission, especially An. darlingi, An. marajoara and An. deaneorum. Projected climate changes included higher temperatures, lower water availability and biome modifications. Regardless of future scenarios considered, the geographic distribution of P. falciparum was exacerbated in 2070 South America, with the distribution of the pathogen covering 35-46 % of the continent. As the current primary vector An. darlingi showed low tolerance for drier environments, the projected climate change would significantly reduce suitable habitat, impacting both its distribution and abundance. Conversely, climate generalist members of the Albitarsis Complex showed significant spatial and temporal expansion potential in 2070, and we conclude these species will become more important in the dynamics of malaria transmission in South America.
Our data suggest that climate and landscape effects will elevate the importance of members of the Albitarsis Complex in malaria transmission in South America in 2070, highlighting the need for further studies addressing the bionomics, ecology and behaviours of the species comprising the Albitarsis Complex.