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Effect of landscape features on the relationship between Ixodes ricinus ticks and their small mammal hosts

Parasites & Vectors


Background: The consequences of land use changes are among the most cited causes of emerging infectious diseases because they can modify the ecology and transmission of pathogens. This is particularly true for vector-borne diseases which depend on abiotic (e.g. climate) and biotic conditions (i.e. hosts and vectors). In this study, we investigated how landscape features affect the abundances of small mammals and Ixodes ricinus ticks, and how they influence their relationship. Methods: From 2012 to 2014, small mammals and questing I. ricinus ticks were sampled in spring and autumn in 24 sites located in agricultural and forest landscapes in Brittany, France. We tested the effects of landscape features (composition and configuration) on the abundances of small mammal species and immature ticks and their relationship. Additionally, we quantified the larval tick burden of small mammals in 2012 to better describe this relationship. Results: The nymph abundance was positively influenced by the larval occurrence and the wood mouse Apodemus sylvaticus abundance the previous spring because they hosted tenfold more larvae than the bank vole Myodes glareolus. The bank vole abundance in spring and autumn had a negative and positive effect, respectively, on the nymph abundance. In agricultural landscapes, wood mice were positively influenced by woodland cover and woodland/hedgerow-grassland ecotone, whereas bank voles showed the opposite or non-significant responses to these landscape variables. The woodland cover had a positive effect on immature ticks. Conclusion: The landscape configuration, likely by affecting the landscape connectivity, influences the small mammal communities in permanent habitats. Our study showed that the wood mouse, due to its dominance and to its tolerance to ticks, feeds a substantial proportion of larvae. The acquired resistance to ticks in the bank vole can reduce its role as a trophic resource over time. The nymph abundance seems indirectly influenced by landscape features via their effects on the small mammal community. To enhance our understanding of the epidemiology of tick-borne diseases within landscapes, further studies will integrate data on pathogen prevalence and investigate explicitly the effect of landscape connectivity on host-vector-pathogen systems.

Author(s): Perez, G; Bastian, S; Agoulon, A; Bouju, A; Durand, A; Faille, F; Lebert, I; Rantier, Y; Plantard, O; Butet, A

Journal: Parasites & Vectors

Year: 2016