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Even though tick-borne
disease systems are highly susceptible to climatic influences, climate change to date is not necessarily the cause of the marked increased incidence of a variety of tick-borne diseases in many parts of Europe over the past two decades. To test for causality, rather than coincidence, we need to examine whether the right sorts of climate change have occurred at the right time and in the right places to account for the observed heterogeneous temporal and spatial patterns of tick-borne
disease ’emergence’. Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) incidence, for example, showed a 3-fold step increase from 1983 to 1986 in Sweden, doubled in 1993 in the Czech Republic, increased even more dramatically in the same year in Lithuania and Poland, but declined markedly in 1997 in Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia. Within each country, TBE incidence has changed to different degrees in different regions. Because other tick-borne diseases, notably
Lyme borreliosis, has commonly ’emerged’ in parallel with TBE, we should first examine climate variables predicted to have a general effect on tick abundance, which has indeed increased in the past decade. These include temperature and moisture stress, which have seasonally differential impacts. Monthly mean records for 1960-2000 from the UK Climate Research Unit’s interpolated global climate surface reveal that mean spring, spring-autumn and winter temperatures have all increased gradually over the past 40 years, but apparently most sharply in the late 1980s, when moisture stress also increased. These climate data do not reveal any obvious differences between sites where TBE did or did not ’emerge’, and in Sweden increases in TBE pre-dated the onset of warmer springs and winters. If recorded climate changes cannot yet satisfactorily explain the temporal and spatial patterns of tick-borne
disease change in Europe, the impact of biotic factors, such as increases in deer abundance and changing habitat structure, and of socio-political changes following the end of communist rule, demand more detailed quantitative analyses.