Host body size and the diversity of tick assemblages on Neotropical vertebrates.
ABSTRACT: Identifying the factors that influence the species diversity and distribution of ticks (Acari: Ixodida) across vertebrate host taxa is of fundamental ecological and medical importance. Host body size is considered one of the most important determinants of tick abundance, with larger hosts having higher tick burdens. The species diversity of tick assemblages should also be greater on larger-bodied host species, but empirical studies testing this hypothesis are lacking. Here, we evaluate this relationship using a comparative dataset of feeding associations from Panama between 45 tick species and 171 host species that range in body size by three orders of magnitude. We found that tick species diversity increased with host body size for adult ticks but not for immature ticks. We also found that closely related host species tended to have similar tick species diversity, but correcting for host phylogeny did not alter the relationships between host body size and tick species diversity. The distribution of tick species was highly aggregated, with approximately 20% of the host species harboring 80% of all tick species, following the Pareto principle or 20/80 Rule. Thus, the aggregated pattern commonly observed for tick burdens and disease transmission also holds for patterns of tick species richness. Our finding that the adult ticks in this system preferentially parasitize large-bodied host species suggests that the ongoing anthropogenic loss of large-bodied vertebrates is likely to result in host-tick coextinction events, even when immature stages feed opportunistically. As parasites play critical roles in ecological and evolutionary processes, such losses may profoundly affect ecosystem functioning and services.
Project description:It is well known that parasites are often highly aggregated on their hosts such that relatively few individuals host the large majority of parasites. When the parasites are vectors of infectious disease, a key consequence of this aggregation can be increased disease transmission rates. The cause of this aggregation, however, is much less clear, especially for parasites such as arthropod vectors, which generally spend only a short time on their hosts. Regression-based analyses of ticks on various hosts have focused almost exclusively on identifying the intrinsic host characteristics associated with large burdens, but these efforts have had mixed results; most host traits examined have some small influence, but none are key. An alternative approach, the Poisson-gamma mixture distribution, has often been used to describe aggregated parasite distributions in a range of host/macroparasite systems, but lacks a clear mechanistic basis. Here, we extend this framework by linking it to a general model of parasite accumulation. Then, focusing on blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) on mice (Peromyscus leucopus), we fit the extended model to the best currently available larval tick burden datasets via hierarchical Bayesian methods, and use it to explore the relative contributions of intrinsic and extrinsic factors on observed tick burdens. Our results suggest that simple bad luck-inhabiting a home range with high vector density-may play a much larger role in determining parasite burdens than is currently appreciated.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Brazilian spotted fever (BSF), caused by the bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii, has been associated with the transmission by the tick Amblyomma sculptum, and one of its main hosts, the capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). METHODS:During 2015-2019, we captured capybaras and ticks in seven highly anthropic areas of São Paulo state (three endemic and four nonendemic for BSF) and in two natural areas of the Pantanal biome, all with established populations of capybaras. RESULTS:The BSF-endemic areas were characterized by much higher tick burdens on both capybaras and in the environment, when compared to the BSF-nonendemic areas. Only two tick species (A. sculptum and Amblyomma dubitatum) were found in the anthropic areas; however, with a great predominance of A. sculptum (?90% of all ticks) in the endemic areas, in contrast to a slight predominance of A. dubitatum (?60%) in the nonendemic areas. Tick species richness was higher in the natural areas, where six species were found, albeit with a predominance of A. sculptum (?95% of all ticks) and environmental tick burdens much lower than in the anthropic areas. The BSF-endemic areas were characterized by overgrowth populations of A. sculptum that were sustained chiefly by capybaras, and decreased populations of A. dubitatum. In contrast, the BSF-nonendemic areas with landscape similar to the endemic areas differed by having lower tick burdens and a slight predominance of A. dubitatum over A.sculptum, both sustained chiefly by capybaras. While multiple medium- to large-sized mammals have been incriminated as important hosts for A. sculptum in the natural areas, the capybara was the only important host for this tick in the anthropic areas. CONCLUSIONS:The uneven distribution of R. rickettsii infection among A. sculptum populations in highly anthropic areas of São Paulo state could be related to the tick population size and its proportion to sympatric A. dubitatum populations.
Project description:Winter ticks (<i>Dermacentor albipictus</i>) are an aggressive one-host tick that infest a wide-diversity of ungulates. Infestations can result in anemia, alopecia, emaciation, and death. Most notably, the winter tick has caused negative impacts to moose (<i>Alces alces</i>) populations in the northeast United States and Canada. Winter ticks have been identified on other cervid species, including deer (<i>Odocoileus virginianus</i>) and elk (<i>Cervus canadensis</i>), which generally results in low tick burdens and mild or no disease. Recently, however, a wild yearling bull elk in Pennsylvania was found dead as a result of severe winter tick infestation. To obtain baseline data on winter ticks in wild elk in Pennsylvania, we collected 1453 ticks from 190 hunter-harvested wild elk between 2017-2018. Of the 204 harvested elk, 94.3% (190/204) had ticks collected for this study and none of the sampled elk had evidence of winter-tick associated disease. The average tick burden was 7.7 ticks/elk and average winter tick load on all elk was 0.5. Results of this study indicate that winter ticks do infest wild elk in Pennsylvania. However, during the fall months, the tick burden is low and rarely associated with lesions. These data herein serve as a baseline to monitor winter tick populations over time.
Project description:Lyme disease, caused by the spirochetal bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (Bbsl), is typically transmitted by hard-bodied ticks (Acari: Ixodidae). Whenever this tick-borne zoonosis is mentioned in medical clinics and emergency rooms, it sparks a firestorm of controversy. Denial often sets in, and healthcare practitioners dismiss the fact that this pathogenic spirochetosis is present in their area. For distribution of Bbsl across Canada, we conducted a 4-year, tick?host study (2013?2016), and collected ticks from avian and mammalian hosts from Atlantic Canada to the West Coast. Overall, 1265 ticks representing 27 tick species belonging to four genera were collected. Of the 18 tick species tested, 15 species (83%) were positive for Bbsl and, of these infected ticks, 6 species bite humans. Overall, 13 of 18 tick species tested are human-biting ticks. Our data suggest that a 6-tick, enzootic maintenance cycle of Bbsl is present in southwestern B.C., and five of these tick species bite humans. Biogeographically, the groundhog tick, Ixodes cookei, has extended its home range from central and eastern Canada to southwestern British Columbia (B.C.). We posit that the Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca, is a reservoir-competent host for Bbsl. The Bay-breasted Warbler, Setophaga castanea, and the Tennessee Warbler, Vermivora peregrina, are new host records for the blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis. We provide the first report of a Bbsl-positive Amblyomma longirostre larva parasitizing a bird; this bird parasitism suggests that a Willow Flycatcher is a competent reservoir of Bbsl. Our findings show that Bbsl is present in all provinces, and that multiple tick species are implicated in the enzootic maintenance cycle of this pathogen. Ultimately, Bbsl poses a serious public health contagion Canada-wide.
Project description:BACKGROUND:With the resurgence of tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and the emergence of new tick-borne pathogens such as Powassan virus, understanding what distinguishes vectors from non-vectors, and predicting undiscovered tick vectors is a crucial step towards mitigating disease risk in humans. We aimed to identify intrinsic traits that predict which Ixodes tick species are confirmed or strongly suspected to be vectors of zoonotic pathogens. METHODS:We focused on the well-studied tick genus Ixodes from which many species are known to transmit zoonotic diseases to humans. We apply generalized boosted regression to interrogate over 90 features for over 240 species of Ixodes ticks to learn what intrinsic features distinguish zoonotic vectors from non-vector species. In addition to better understanding the biological underpinnings of tick vectorial capacity, the model generates a per species probability of being a zoonotic vector on the basis of intrinsic biological similarity with known Ixodes vector species. RESULTS:Our model predicted vector status with over 91% accuracy, and identified 14 Ixodes species with high probabilities (80%) of transmitting infections from animal hosts to humans on the basis of their traits. Distinguishing characteristics of zoonotic tick vectors of Ixodes tick species include several anatomical structures that influence host seeking behavior and blood-feeding efficiency from a greater diversity of host species compared to non-vectors. CONCLUSIONS:Overall, these results suggest that zoonotic tick vectors are most likely to be those species where adult females hold a fecundity advantage by producing more eggs per clutch, which develop into larvae that feed on a greater diversity of host species compared to non-vector species. These larvae develop into nymphs whose anatomy are well suited for more efficient and longer feeding times on soft-bodied hosts compared to non-vectors, leading to larger adult females with greater fecundity. In addition to identifying novel, testable hypotheses about intrinsic features driving vectorial capacity across Ixodes tick species, our model identifies particular Ixodes species with the highest probability of carrying zoonotic diseases, offering specific targets for increased zoonotic investigation and surveillance.
Project description:In the tropics, ticks parasitize many classes of vertebrate hosts. However, because many tropical tick species are only identifiable in the adult stage, and these adults usually parasitize mammals, most attention on the ecology of tick-host interactions has focused on mammalian hosts. In contrast, immature Neotropical ticks are often found on wild birds, yet difficulties in identifying immatures hinder studies of birds' role in tropical tick ecology and tick-borne disease transmission. In Panama, we found immature ticks on 227 out of 3,498 individually-sampled birds representing 93 host species (24% of the bird species sampled, and 13% of the Panamanian land bird fauna). Tick parasitism rates did not vary with rainfall or temperature, but did vary significantly with several host ecological traits. Likewise, Neotropical-Nearctic migratory birds were significantly less likely to be infested than resident species. Using a molecular library developed from morphologically-identified adult ticks specifically for this study, we identified eleven tick species parasitizing birds, indicating that a substantial portion of the Panamanian avian species pool is parasitized by a diversity of tick species. Tick species that most commonly parasitized birds had the widest diversity of avian hosts, suggesting that immature tick species are opportunistic bird parasites. Although certain avian ecological traits are positively associated with parasitism, we found no evidence that individual tick species show specificity to particular avian host ecological traits. Finally, our data suggest that the four principal vectors of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in the Neotropics rarely, if ever, parasitize Panamanian birds. However, other tick species that harbor newly-discovered rickettsial parasites of unknown pathogenicity are frequently found on these birds. Given our discovery of broad interaction between Panamanian tick and avian biodiversity, future work on tick ecology and the dynamics of emerging tropical tick-borne pathogens should explicitly consider wild bird as hosts.
Project description:Investigations focusing on host-ectoparasite interactions in animals have revealed asymptomatic to severe health and fitness consequences suggesting that species mobilize different interspecific response mechanisms. Fewer studies, however, have examined intraspecific responses to ectoparasitic burdens. In this study, we analyzed host health and fitness responses to increasing ectoparasite burdens along with the presence/absence of hemoparasites of free-ranging insular rock iguanas (<i>Cyclura cychlura</i>) in The Bahamas. Using hematology, plasma biochemistry, as well as body condition and growth rate comparisons, we failed to find significant associations of tick burdens with annual growth rate, corticosterone, packed cell volume, total white blood cell, and heterophil, monocyte, eosinophil or hemoglobin measures. We did, however, find mixed and significant associations of tick burdens with lymphocyte and basophil counts, heterophil-to-lymphocyte ratios, and body condition indices. These associations varied by sex, size, and hemoparasite infection status suggesting that different life stages of iguanas may invest differently in immune responses, and impacts may be modulated based on size and sex of hosts, and coinfection status.
Project description:The availability of vertebrate hosts is a major determinant of the occurrence of ticks and tick-borne zoonoses in natural and anthropogenic ecosystems and thus drives disease risk for wildlife, livestock, and humans. However, it remains challenging to quantify the availability of vertebrate hosts in field settings, particularly for medium-sized to large-bodied mammals. Here, we present a method that uses camera traps to quantify the availability of warm-bodied vertebrates to ticks. The approach is to deploy camera traps at questing height at a representative sample of random points across the study area, measure the average photographic capture rate for vertebrate species, and then correct these rates for the effective detection distance. The resulting "passage rate" is a standardized measure of the frequency at which vertebrates approach questing ticks, which we show is proportional to contact rate. A field test across twenty 1-ha forest plots in the Netherlands indicated that this method effectively captures differences in wildlife assemblage composition between sites. Also, the relative abundances of three life stages of the sheep tick Ixodes ricinus from drag sampling were correlated with passage rates of deer, which agrees with the known association with this group of host species, suggesting that passage rate effectively reflects the availability of medium- to large-sized hosts to ticks. This method will facilitate quantitative studies of the relationship between densities of questing ticks and the availability of different vertebrate species-wild as well as domesticated species-in natural and anthropogenic settings.
Project description:Lyme disease, a zoonotic disease, is the most prevalent vector-borne disease in the Northern Hemisphere. Diversity of the vector (tick) microbiome can impact pathogen transmission, yet the biotic and abiotic factors that drive microbiome diversity are largely unresolved, especially under natural, field conditions. We describe the microbiome of Ixodes pacificus ticks, the vector for Lyme disease in the western United States, and show a strong impact of host blood meal identity on tick microbiome species richness and composition. Western fence lizards, a host that is refractory to the Lyme disease pathogen, significantly reduces microbiome diversity in ticks relative to ticks that feed on a mammalian reservoir host. Host blood meal-driven reduction of tick microbiome diversity may have lifelong repercussions on I. pacificus vector competency and ultimately disease dynamics.
Project description:The extent to which the biodiversity and community composition of ecosystems affect their functions is an issue that grows ever more compelling as human impacts on ecosystems increase. We present evidence that supports a novel function of vertebrate biodiversity, the buffering of human risk of exposure to Lyme-disease-bearing ticks. We tested the Dilution Effect model, which predicts that high species diversity in the community of tick hosts reduces vector infection prevalence by diluting the effects of the most competent disease reservoir, the ubiquitous white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus). As habitats are degraded by fragmentation or other anthropogenic forces, some members of the host community disappear. Thus, species-poor communities tend to have mice, but few other hosts, whereas species-rich communities have mice, plus many other potential hosts. We demonstrate that the most common nonmouse hosts are relatively poor reservoirs for the Lyme spirochete and should reduce the prevalence of the disease by feeding, but rarely infecting, ticks. By accounting for nearly every host species' contribution to the number of larval ticks fed and infected, we show that as new host species are added to a depauperate community, the nymphal infection prevalence, a key risk factor, declines. We identify important "dilution hosts" (e.g., squirrels), characterized by high tick burdens, low reservoir competence, and high population density, as well as "rescue hosts" (e.g., shrews), which are capable of maintaining high disease risk when mouse density is low. Our study suggests that the preservation of vertebrate biodiversity and community composition can reduce the incidence of Lyme disease.