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Landscape structure affects the prevalence and distribution of a tick-borne zoonotic pathogen

Millins, Caroline, Dickinson, Eleanor R., Isakovic, Petra, Gilbert, Lucy, Wojciechowska, Agnieszka, Paterson, Victoria, Tao, Feng, Jahn, Martin, Kilbride, Elizabeth, Birtles, Richard, Johnson, Paul, Biek, Roman
Parasites & vectors 2018 v.11 no.1 pp. 621
Borrelia afzelii, Borrelia burgdorferi, Borrelia garinii, Borrelia valaisiana, Lyme disease, birds, feces, habitat fragmentation, host seeking, hosts, immigration, islands, landscapes, pathogens, population dynamics, small mammals, ticks
BACKGROUND: Landscape structure can affect pathogen prevalence and persistence with consequences for human and animal health. Few studies have examined how reservoir host species traits may interact with landscape structure to alter pathogen communities and dynamics. Using a landscape of islands and mainland sites we investigated how natural landscape fragmentation affects the prevalence and persistence of the zoonotic tick-borne pathogen complex Borrelia burgdorferi (sensu lato), which causes Lyme borreliosis. We hypothesized that the prevalence of B. burgdorferi (s.l.) would be lower on islands compared to the mainland and B. afzelii, a small mammal specialist genospecies, would be more affected by isolation than bird-associated B. garinii and B. valaisiana and the generalist B. burgdorferi (sensu stricto). METHODS: Questing (host-seeking) nymphal I. ricinus ticks (n = 6567) were collected from 12 island and 6 mainland sites in 2011, 2013 and 2015 and tested for B. burgdorferi (s.l.). Deer abundance was estimated using dung transects. RESULTS: The prevalence of B. burgdorferi (s.l.) was significantly higher on the mainland (2.5%, 47/1891) compared to island sites (0.9%, 44/4673) (P < 0.01). While all four genospecies of B. burgdorferi (s.l.) were detected on the mainland, bird-associated species B. garinii and B. valaisiana and the generalist genospecies B. burgdorferi (s.s.) predominated on islands. CONCLUSION: We found that landscape structure influenced the prevalence of a zoonotic pathogen, with a lower prevalence detected among island sites compared to the mainland. This was mainly due to the significantly lower prevalence of small mammal-associated B. afzelii. Deer abundance was not related to pathogen prevalence, suggesting that the structure and dynamics of the reservoir host community underpins the observed prevalence patterns, with the higher mobility of bird hosts compared to small mammal hosts leading to a relative predominance of the bird-associated genospecies B. garinii and generalist genospecies B. burgdorferi (s.s.) on islands. In contrast, the lower prevalence of B. afzelii on islands may be due to small mammal populations there exhibiting lower densities, less immigration and stronger population fluctuations. This study suggests that landscape fragmentation can influence the prevalence of a zoonotic pathogen, dependent on the biology of the reservoir host.