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Hosts as ecological traps for the vector of Lyme disease.

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Abstract

Vectors of infectious diseases are generally thought to be regulated by abiotic conditions such as climate or the availability of specific hosts or habitats. In this study we tested whether blacklegged ticks, the vectors of
Lyme disease, granulocytic anaplasmosis and babesiosis can be regulated by the species of vertebrate hosts on which they obligately feed. By subjecting field-caught hosts to parasitism by larval blacklegged ticks, we found that some host species (e.g. opossums, squirrels) that are abundantly parasitized in nature kill 83-96% of the ticks that attempt to attach and feed, while other species are more permissive of tick feeding. Given natural tick burdens we document on these hosts, we show that some hosts can kill thousands of ticks per hectare. These results indicate that the abundance of tick vectors can be regulated by the identity of the hosts upon which these vectors feed. By simulating the removal of hosts from intact communities using empirical models, we show that the loss of biodiversity may exacerbate
disease risk by increasing both vector numbers and vector infection rates with a zoonotic pathogen.

Proc Biol Sci. 2009 Nov 22;276(1675):3911-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2009.1159. Epub 2009 Aug 19. Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural; Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov’t; Research Support, U.S. Gov’t, Non-P.H.S.

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