Two hypotheses for how conditions for larval mosquitoes affect vectorial capacity make opposite predictions about the relationship of adult size and frequency of infection with vector-borne pathogens. Competition among larvae produces small adult females. The competition-susceptibility hypothesis postulates that small females are more susceptible to infection and predicts frequency of infection should decrease with size. The competition-longevity hypothesis postulates that small females have lower longevity and lower probability of becoming competent to transmit the pathogen and thus predicts frequency of infection should increase with size. We tested these hypotheses for Aedes aegypti
in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during a dengue outbreak. In the laboratory, longevity increases with size, then decreases at the largest sizes. For field-collected females, generalised linear mixed model comparisons showed that a model with a linear increase of frequency of dengue with size produced the best Akaike’s information criterion with a correction for small sample sizes (AICc). Consensus prediction of three competing models indicated that frequency of infection increases monotonically with female size, consistent with the competition-longevity hypothesis. Site frequency of infection was not significantly related to site mean size of females. Thus, our data indicate that uncrowded, low competition conditions for larvae produce the females that are most likely to be important vectors of dengue. More generally, ecological conditions, particularly crowding and intraspecific competition among larvae, are likely to affect vector-borne pathogen transmission in nature, in this case via effects on longevity of resulting adults. Heterogeneity among individual vectors in likelihood of infection is a generally important outcome of ecological conditions impacting vectors as larvae.