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Open Access Research article

Effects of microcosm scaling and food resources on growth and survival of larval Culex pipiens

Gregory Wynn1 and Christopher J Paradise2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, King's College, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711, USA

2 Department of Biology, Davidson College, PO Box 1719, Davidson, NC 28036, USA

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BMC Ecology 2001, 1:3  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-1-3

Published: 1 August 2001



We used a simple experimental design to test for the effects of microcosm scaling on the growth and survival of the mosquito, Culex pipiens. Microcosm and mesocosm studies are commonly used in ecology, and there is often an assumption that scaling doesn't affect experimental outcomes. The assumption is implicit in the design; choice of mesocosms may be arbitrary or based on convenience or cost. We tested the hypothesis that scale would influence larvae due to depth and surface area effects. Larvae were predicted to perform poorly in microcosms that were both deep and had small openings, due to buildup of waste products, less exchange with the environment, and increased competition. To determine if the choice of scale affected responses to other factors, we independently varied leaf litter quantity, whose effects on mosquitoes are well known.


We found adverse effects of both a lower wall surface area and lower horizontal surface area, but microcosm scale interacted with resources such that C. pipiens is affected by habitat size only when food resources are scarce. At low resource levels mosquitoes were fewer, but larger, in microcosms with smaller horizontal surface area and greater depth than in microcosms with greater horizontal surface area and shallower depth. Microcosms with more vertical surface area/volume often produced larger mosquitoes; more food may have been available since mosquitoes browse on walls and other substrates for food.


The interaction between habitat size and food abundance is consequential to aquatic animals, and choice of scale in experiments may affect results. Varying surface area and depth causes the scale effect, with small horizontal surface area and large depth decreasing matter exchange with the surrounding environment. In addition, fewer resources leads to less leaf surface area, and the effects of varying surface area will be greater under conditions of limiting resources. This leads to smaller size, which limits fecundity and survival. Choice of container size, either by ovipositing females or researchers, interacts with a major aspect of the ecology of animals; obtaining resources in a resource-limited environment.