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Ecology. 2006 Aug;87(8):1981-6.

Localized deer absence leads to tick amplification.

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Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, 208 Mueller Laboratory, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania 16802, USA.


Deer support high tick intensities, perpetuating tick populations, but they do not support tick-borne pathogen transmission, so are dilution hosts. We test the hypothesis that absence of deer (loss of a dilution host) will result in either an increase or a reduction in tick density, and that the outcome is scale dependent. We use a complementary methodological approach starting with meta-analysis, followed up by a field experiment. Meta-analysis indicated that larger deer exclosures reduce questing (host-seeking) tick density, but as the exclosure becomes smaller (<2.5 ha) the questing tick density is increased (amplified). To determine the consequences for tick-borne pathogen transmission we carried out a field experiment, comparing the intensity of ticks that fed on hosts competent for tickborne pathogen transmission (rodents) in two small (<1 ha) deer exclosures and their replicated controls. Intensity of larval ticks on rodents was not significantly different between treatments, but nymph intensity, the tick stage responsible for tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) transmission, was higher in deer exclosures. TBE seropositive rodents were found in a deer exclosure but not in the controls. We propose that localized absence of deer (loss of a dilution host) increases tick feeding on rodents, leading to the potential for tick-borne disease hotspots.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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