JOURNAL ARTICLE

Morphometrics applied to medical entomology

Jean-Pierre Dujardin
Infection, Genetics and Evolution 2008, 8 (6): 875-90
18832048
Morphometrics underwent a revolution more than one decade ago. In the modern morphometrics, the estimate of size is now contained in a single variable reflecting variation in many directions, as many as there are landmarks under study, and shape is defined as their relative positions after correcting for size, position and orientation. With these informative data, and the corresponding software freely available to conduct complex analyses, significant biological and epidemiological features can be quantified more accurately. We discuss the evolutionary significance of the environmental impact on metric variability, mentioning the importance of concepts like genetic assimilation, genetic accommodation, and epigenetics. We provide examples of measuring the effect of selection on metric variation by comparing (unpublished) Qst values with corresponding (published) Fst. The primary needs of medical entomologists are to distinguish species, especially cryptic species, and to detect them where they are not expected. We explain how geometric morphometrics could apply to these questions, and where there are deficiencies preventing the approach from being utilized at its maximum potential. Medical entomologists in connection with control programs aim to identify isolated populations where the risk of reinfestation after treatment would be low ("biogeographical islands"). Identifying them can be obtained from estimating the number of migrants per generation. Direct assessment of movement remains the most valid approach, but it scores active movement only. Genetic methods estimating gene flow levels among interbreeding populations are commonly used, but gene flow does not necessarily mean the current flow of migrants. Methods using the morphometric variation are neither suited to evaluate gene flow, nor are they adapted to estimate the flow of migrants. They may provide, however, the information needed to create a preliminary map pointing to relevant areas where one could invest in using molecular machinery. In case of reinfesting specimens after treatment, the question relates to the likely source of reinfesting specimens: are they a residual sample not affected by the control measures, or are they individuals migrating from surrounding, untreated foci? We explain why the morphometric approach may be adapted to answer such question. Thus, we describe the differences between estimating the flow of migrants and identifying the source of reinfestation after treatment: although morphometrics is not suited to deal with the former, it may be an appropriate tool to address the latter.

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