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Factors affecting patterns of tick parasitism on forest rodents in tick-borne encephalitis risk areas, Germany

Kiffner, Christian, Vor, Torsten, Hagedorn, Peter, Niedrig, Matthias, Rühe, Ferdinand
Parasitology research 2011 v.108 no.2 pp. 323-335
Apodemus flavicollis, Capreolus capreolus, Dermacentor, Ixodes, disease transmission, forests, larvae, models, nymphs, parasitism, relative humidity, risk, rodents, spring, temperature, tick-borne encephalitis, ticks, vegetation cover, woodlands, Germany
Identifying factors affecting individual vector burdens is essential for understanding infectious disease systems. Drawing upon data of a rodent monitoring programme conducted in nine different forest patches in southern Hesse, Germany, we developed models which predict tick (Ixodes spp. and Dermacentor spp.) burdens on two rodent species Apodemus flavicollis and Myodes glareolus. Models for the two rodent species were broadly similar but differed in some aspects. Patterns of Ixodes spp. burdens were influenced by extrinsic factors such as season, unexplained spatial variation (both species), relative humidity and vegetation cover (A. flavicollis). We found support for the ‘body mass’ (tick burdens increase with body mass/age) and for the ‘dilution’ hypothesis (tick burdens decline with increasing rodent densities) and little support for the ‘sex-bias’ hypothesis (both species). Surprisingly, roe deer densities were not correlated with larvae counts on rodents. Factors influencing the mean burden did not significantly explain the observed dispersion of tick counts. Co-feeding aggregations, which are essential for tick-borne disease transmission, were mainly found in A. flavicollis of high body mass trapped in areas with fast increase in spring temperatures. Locally, Dermacentor spp. appears to be an important parasite on A. flavicollis and M. glareolus. Dermacentor spp. was rather confined to areas with higher average temperatures during the vegetation period. Nymphs of Dermacentor spp. mainly fed on M. glareolus and were seldom found on A. flavicollis. Whereas Ixodes spp. is the dominant tick genus in woodlands of our study area, the distribution and epidemiological role of Dermacentor spp. should be monitored closely.