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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2013 Dec;79(23):7273-80. doi: 10.1128/AEM.02158-13. Epub 2013 Sep 13.

Species co-occurrence patterns among Lyme borreliosis pathogens in the tick vector Ixodes ricinus.

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Institute of Biology, Laboratory of Eco-Epidemiology of Parasites, University of Neuch√Ętel, Neuch√Ętel, Switzerland.


Mixed infections have important consequences for the ecology and evolution of host-parasite interactions. In vector-borne diseases, interactions between pathogens occur in both the vertebrate host and the arthropod vector. Spirochete bacteria belonging to the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato genospecies complex are transmitted by Ixodes ticks and cause Lyme borreliosis in humans. In Europe, there is a high diversity of Borrelia pathogens, and the main tick vector, Ixodes ricinus, is often infected with multiple Borrelia genospecies. In the present study, we characterized the pairwise interactions between five B. burgdorferi sensu lato genospecies in a large data set of I. ricinus ticks collected from the same field site in Switzerland. We measured two types of pairwise interactions: (i) co-occurrence, whether double infections occurred more or less often than expected, and (ii) spirochete load additivity, whether the total spirochete load in double infections was greater or less than the sum of the single infections. Mixed infections of Borrelia genospecies specialized on different vertebrate reservoir hosts occurred less frequently than expected (negative co-occurrence) and had joint spirochete loads that were lower than the additive expectation (inhibition). In contrast, mixed infections of genospecies that share the same reservoir hosts were more common than expected (positive co-occurrence) and had joint spirochete loads that were similar to or greater than the additive expectation (facilitation). Our study suggests that the vertebrate host plays an important role in structuring the community of B. burgdorferi sensu lato genospecies inside the tick vector.

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