Ecological drivers of a vector borne pathogen: distribution and abundance of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato and its vector Ixodes ricinus in Scotland

Millins, Caroline Louise (2016) Ecological drivers of a vector borne pathogen: distribution and abundance of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato and its vector Ixodes ricinus in Scotland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Vector-borne disease emergence in recent decades has been associated with different environmental drivers including changes in habitat, hosts and climate. Lyme borreliosis is among the most important vector-borne diseases in the Northern hemisphere and is an emerging disease in Scotland. Transmitted by Ixodid tick vectors between large numbers of wild vertebrate host species, Lyme borreliosis is caused by bacteria from the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato species group. Ecological studies can inform how environmental factors such as host abundance and community composition, habitat and landscape heterogeneity contribute to spatial and temporal variation in risk from B. burgdorferi s.l.

In this thesis a range of approaches were used to investigate the effects of vertebrate host communities and individual host species as drivers of B. burgdorferi s.l. dynamics and its tick vector Ixodes ricinus. Host species differ in reservoir competence for B. burgdorferi s.l. and as hosts for ticks. Deer are incompetent transmission hosts for B. burgdorferi s.l. but are significant hosts of all life-stages of I. ricinus. Rodents and birds are important transmission hosts of B. burgdorferi s.l. and common hosts of immature life-stages of I. ricinus. In this thesis, surveys of woodland sites revealed variable effects of deer density on B. burgdorferi prevalence, from no effect (Chapter 2) to a possible ‘dilution’ effect resulting in lower prevalence at higher deer densities (Chapter 3). An invasive species in Scotland, the grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), was found to host diverse genotypes of B. burgdorferi s.l. and may act as a spill-over host for strains maintained by native host species (Chapter 4). Habitat fragmentation may alter the dynamics of B. burgdorferi s.l. via effects on the host community and host movements. In this thesis, there was lack of persistence of the rodent associated genospecies of B. burgdorferi s.l. within a naturally fragmented landscape (Chapter 3). Rodent host biology, particularly population cycles and dispersal ability are likely to affect pathogen persistence and recolonization in fragmented habitats.

Heterogeneity in disease dynamics can occur spatially and temporally due to differences in the host community, habitat and climatic factors. Higher numbers of I. ricinus nymphs, and a higher probability of detecting a nymph infected with B. burgdorferi s.l., were found in areas with warmer climates estimated by growing degree days (Chapter 2). The ground vegetation type associated with the highest number of I. ricinus nymphs varied between studies in this thesis (Chapter 2 & 3) and does not appear to be a reliable predictor across large areas. B. burgdorferi s.l. prevalence and genospecies composition was highly variable for the same sites sampled in subsequent years (Chapter 2). This suggests that dynamic variables such as reservoir host densities and deer should be measured as well as more static habitat and climatic factors to understand the drivers of B. burgdorferi s.l. infection in ticks.

Heterogeneity in parasite loads amongst hosts is a common finding which has implications for disease ecology and management. Using a 17-year data set for tick infestations in a wild bird community in Scotland, different effects of age and sex on tick burdens were found among four species of passerine bird (Chapter 5). There were also different rates of decline in tick burdens among bird species in response to a long term decrease in questing tick pressure over the study. Species specific patterns may be driven by differences in behaviour and immunity and highlight the importance of comparative approaches.

Combining whole genome sequencing (WGS) and population genetics approaches offers a novel approach to identify ecological drivers of pathogen populations. An initial analysis of WGS from B. burgdorferi s.s. isolates sampled 16 years apart suggests that there is a signal of measurable evolution (Chapter 6). This suggests demographic analyses may be applied to understand ecological and evolutionary processes of these bacteria.

This work shows how host communities, habitat and climatic factors can affect the local transmission dynamics of B. burgdorferi s.l. and the potential risk of infection to humans. Spatial and temporal heterogeneity in pathogen dynamics poses challenges for the prediction of risk. New tools such as WGS of the pathogen (Chapter 6) and blood meal analysis techniques will add power to future studies on the ecology and evolution of B. burgdorferi s.l.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Vector, Ixodes ricinus, pathogen, Borrelia burgdorferi, ecology, host communities, ecological drivers, Lyme borreliosis
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history > QH426 Genetics
Q Science > QR Microbiology
Colleges/Schools: College of Medical Veterinary and Life Sciences > Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health and Comparative Medicine
Funder's Name: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Supervisor's Name: Biek, Dr. Roman and Gilbert, Dr. Lucy
Date of Award: 2016
Embargo Date: 1 May 2019
Depositing User: Miss Caroline L Millins
Unique ID: glathesis:2016-7311
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 13 May 2016 08:32
Last Modified: 31 May 2018 13:00

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