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Parasit Vectors. 2017 Jan 5;10(1):7. doi: 10.1186/s13071-016-1938-y.

Lyme disease risk in southern California: abiotic and environmental drivers of Ixodes pacificus (Acari: Ixodidae) density and infection prevalence with Borrelia burgdorferi.

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Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, 93106-9620, USA.
Department of Biology, Stanford University, 371 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA, 94305, USA.
Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, 93106-9620, USA.
Department of Biology, San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA, 94132, USA.



Tick-borne diseases, particularly Lyme disease, are emerging across the northern hemisphere. In order to manage emerging diseases and predict where emergence will likely occur, it is necessary to understand the factors influencing the distribution, abundance and infection prevalence of vector species. In North America, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease and is transmitted by blacklegged ticks. This study aimed to explore the abiotic and environmental drivers of density and infection prevalence of western blacklegged ticks (Ixodes pacificus) in southern California, an understudied and densely populated region of North America.


Over the course of this two-year study, densities of I. pacificus adults were consistently positively associated with host availability for juvenile ticks and dense oak woodland habitat. Densities of nymphal and larval I. pacificus, on the other hand were primarily predicted by host availability for juvenile ticks in the first year of the study, and by habitat characteristics such as dense leaf litter in the second year. Infection with the causative agent of Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi (sensu stricto), and related spirochetes was not predicted by the abiotic conditions promoting I. pacificus populations, but rather by diversity of the tick community, and in particular by the presence of two Ixodes tick species that do not generally feed on humans (Ixodes spinipalpis and Ixodes peromysci). Borrelia spp. infection was not detected in the I. pacificus populations sampled, but was detected in other vector species that may maintain enzootic transmission of the pathogen on the landscape.


This study identified dense oak woodlands as high-risk habitats for I. pacificus tick encounter in southern California. The shift in relative importance of host availability to habitat characteristics in predicting juvenile tick abundance occurred as California's historic drought intensified, suggesting that habitat providing suitable microclimates for tick survivorship became centrally important to patterns of abundance in the face of deleterious abiotic conditions. These results underscore the need for further investigation of the effects of climate change on tick-borne disease in California. Finally, despite low risk of human Lyme disease infection posed by I. pacificus in southern California, evidence of infection was found in other tick species, suggesting that enzootic transmission of tick-borne borreliae may be occurring in southern California, and involve parallel enzootic cycles with other tick and host species but not necessarily humans.


Borrelia bissettiae; Drought; Enzootic transmission; Ixodes peromysci; Ixodes spinipalpis; Partial least squares regression; Vector diversity

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