Modelling pulsed releases for sterile insect techniques: fitness costs of sterile and transgenic males and the effects on mosquito dynamics.
The development of transgenic technologies, coupled with sterile insect techniques (SIT), is being explored in relation to new approaches for the biological control of insect pests. Recent studies have shown that there are often fitness costs associated with transgenic insect strains, but the impact of these costs on their potential use in pest control is poorly understood. In this paper, we explore the impact of an insect fitness cost on two control strategies (classical SIT and transgenic late-acting bisex lethality) using a stage-structured mathematical model, which is parameterized for the mosquito Aedes aegypti. Counter to the majority of studies, we use realistic pulsed release strategies and incorporate a fitness cost, which is manifested as a reduction in male mating competitiveness. For both models we show that the level of control of a pest mosquito population is highly sensitive to the rate at which the transgenic or sterile males are released. Population control is more effective when smaller numbers of sterile/transgenic males are released more frequently than larger and less frequent releases. If the wild-type mosquito population exhibits cycles of peaks and troughs in abundance, as is the case for many insect species, then high frequency releases of transgenic males not only reduce mosquito abundance, but they may dampen future pest outbreaks, whereas the use of SIT alone may have an adverse effect, causing an increase in mosquito abundance. Additionally, the timing of sterile/transgenic male release during the mosquito population cycle is critical in reducing pest outbreak levels. In all cases, the reduced fitness of the sterile/transgenic males causes reductions in control, thus requiring more frequent or greater magnitude releases. Synthesis and applications. The sterile insect technique is considered to be a valuable non-chemical tool for pest management. With the potential application of recent genetic developments to enhance the technique, it is becoming increasingly important to consider the wider ecological implications of this biological control strategy. Predicting the most efficient release strategies will be important in combating pest and vector insects as well as for limiting potential broader ecological effects. Although the focus of our models are based on the mosquito, A. aegypti, which can spread yellow fever, dengue fever and Chikungunya disease, our modelling approach and results can be applied more broadly to other species.