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Effects of white-tailed deer habitat use preferences on southern cattle fever tick eradication: simulating impact on “pasture vacation” strategies

M. Sofia Agudelo, William E. Grant, Hsiao‑Hsuan Wang
Parasites & vectors 2021 v.14 no.1 pp. 102
Babesia bigemina, Babesia bovis, Odocoileus virginianus, acaricides, babesiosis, cattle, cattle diseases, grasses, habitat preferences, host seeking, landscapes, larvae, pastures, rangelands, refuge habitats, shrubs, simulation models, wildlife, wood, Texas
BACKGROUND: Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) annulatus and Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus (southern cattle fever tick; SCFT), collectively known as cattle-fever ticks (CFTs), are vectors of protozoal parasites (Babesia bigemina and Babesia bovis) that cause bovine babesiosis (also known as cattle fever). One traditional strategy for CFT eradication involves the implementation of a “pasture vacation,” which involves removing cattle (Bos taurus) from an infested pasture for an extended period of time. However, vacated pastures are often inhabited by wildlife hosts, such as white-tailed deer (WTD; Odocoileus virginianus), which can serve as alternate hosts for questing CFTs. We hypothesized that the distribution of host-seeking larvae among habitat types post-pasture vacation would reflect habitat use patterns of WTD, and in turn, affect the subsequent rate of pasture infestation by CFT. METHODS: We adapted a spatially explicit, individual-based model to simulate interactions among SCFT, cattle, and WTD as a tool to investigate the potential effects of WTD habitat use preferences on the efficacy of a pasture vacation. We parameterized the model to represent conditions typical of rangelands in south Texas, USA, simulated a 1-year pasture vacation under different assumptions regarding WTD habitat use preferences, and summarized effects on efficacy through (1) time post-vacation to reach 100% of pre-vacation densities of host-seeking larvae, and (2) the ecological conditions that resulted in the lowest host-seeking larval densities following pasture vacation. RESULTS: Larval densities at the landscape scale varied seasonally in a similar manner over the entire simulation period, regardless of WTD habitat use preferences. Following the removal of cattle, larval densities declined sharply to < 100 larvae/ha. Following the return of cattle, larval densities increased to > 60% of pre-vacation densities ≈ 21 weeks post-vacation, and reached pre-vacation levels in less than a year. Trends in larval densities in different habitat types paralleled those at the landscape scale over the entire simulation period, but differed quantitatively from one another during the pasture vacation. Relative larval densities (highest to lowest) shifted from (1) wood/shrub, (2) grass, (3) mixed-brush during the pre-vacation period to (1) mixed-brush, (2) wood/shrub, (3) grass or (1) wood/shrub, (2) mixed-brush, (3) grass during the post-vacation period, depending on WTD habitat use preferences. CONCLUSIONS: By monitoring WTD-driven shifts in distributions of SCFT host-seeking larvae among habitat types during simulated pasture vacation experiments, we were able to identify potential SCFT refugia from which recrudescence of infestations could originate. Such information could inform timely applications of acaricides to specific refugia habitats immediately prior to the termination of pasture vacations.