Thought experiment: a world without…

aedes aegypti cdcAbout three years ago, I wrote a feature story for news section of Nature titled: “A world without mosquitoes.” It was meant to be a thought experiment… I hate them, I don’t know anyone who actually likes them (maybe except Ned Flanders), they spread diseases, and make summers in D.C. and Taiwan unbearable.

What good are they? After talking to lots of scientists, I got the impression that it would be okay if they were gone. To be clear, I wasn’t suggesting we actually eradicate them (what poisonous horrors would that take?). I was simply using that line of thinking as a way to talk about their roles in ecosystems.

The story ended up as one of the top 10 most read Nature news stories of the year. It generated a ton of comments and emails, was widely circulated by academics, and became the topic of several hateful and ridiculous blog posts (which I won’t link to here). Suffice it to say, I was personally badmouthed by many ecologists for my perceived hatred of biodiversity.

I was even cited in a JAMA commentary for suggesting that, “prompted by global health advocates, scientists are considering innovative solutions such as the elimination of global mosquito populations.” This was followed by a letter published in JAMA, clarifying that my story had not “proposed global eradication of all mosquitoes,” that I was using eradication as a vehicle to discuss their role in the environment. The commentary author wrote in reply:

The article by Fang presented a theory envisaging a “world without mosquitoes,” which is both unlikely and could cause uncertain ecological effects.

So, what do you think? Is there an organism that, in theory, ecosystems could survive without? Check it out online here, or the pdf (recommended) is here. Let me know!

Image: female Aedes aegypti / CDC Public Health Image Library


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