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      Changes in the geographical distribution and abundance of the tick Ixodes ricinus during the past 30 years in Sweden

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          Abstract

          Background

          Ixodes ricinus is the main vector in Europe of human-pathogenic Lyme borreliosis (LB) spirochaetes, the tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) and other pathogens of humans and domesticated mammals. The results of a previous 1994 questionnaire, directed at people living in Central and North Sweden (Svealand and Norrland) and aiming to gather information about tick exposure for humans and domestic animals, suggested that Ixodes ricinus ticks had become more widespread in Central Sweden and the southern part of North Sweden from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. To investigate whether the expansion of the tick's northern geographical range and the increasing abundance of ticks in Sweden were still occurring, in 2009 we performed a follow-up survey 16 years after the initial study.

          Methods

          A questionnaire similar to the one used in the 1994 study was published in Swedish magazines aimed at dog owners, home owners, and hunters. The questionnaire was published together with a popular science article about the tick's biology and role as a pathogen vector in Sweden. The magazines were selected to get information from people familiar with ticks and who spend time in areas where ticks might be present.

          Results

          Analyses of data from both surveys revealed that during the near 30-year period from the early 1980s to 2008, I. ricinus has expanded its distribution range northwards. In the early 1990s ticks were found in new areas along the northern coastline of the Baltic Sea, while in the 2009 study, ticks were reported for the first time from many locations in North Sweden. This included locations as far north as 66°N and places in the interior part of North Sweden. During this 16-year period the tick's range in Sweden was estimated to have increased by 9.9%. Most of the range expansion occurred in North Sweden (north of 60°N) where the tick's coverage area doubled from 12.5% in the early 1990s to 26.8% in 2008. Moreover, according to the respondents, the abundance of ticks had increased markedly in LB- and TBE-endemic areas in South (Götaland) and Central Sweden.

          Conclusions

          The results suggest that I. ricinus has expanded its range in North Sweden and has become distinctly more abundant in Central and South Sweden during the last three decades. However, in the northern mountain region I. ricinus is still absent. The increased abundance of the tick can be explained by two main factors: First, the high availability of large numbers of important tick maintenance hosts, i.e., cervids, particularly roe deer ( Capreolus capreolus) during the last three decades. Second, a warmer climate with milder winters and a prolonged growing season that permits greater survival and proliferation over a larger geographical area of both the tick itself and deer. High reproductive potential of roe deer, high tick infestation rate and the tendency of roe deer to disperse great distances may explain the range expansion of I. ricinus and particularly the appearance of new TBEV foci far away from old TBEV-endemic localities. The geographical presence of LB in Sweden corresponds to the distribution of I. ricinus. Thus, LB is now an emerging disease risk in many parts of North Sweden. Unless countermeasures are undertaken to keep the deer populations, particularly C. capreolus and Dama dama, at the relatively low levels that prevailed before the late 1970s - especially in and around urban areas where human population density is high - by e.g. reduced hunting of red fox ( Vulpes vulpes) and lynx ( Lynx lynx), the incidences of human LB and TBE are expected to continue to be high or even to increase in Sweden in coming decades.

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          Most cited references 33

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          Impact of climatic change on the northern latitude limit and population density of the disease-transmitting European tick Ixodes ricinus.

          We examined whether a reported northward expansion of the geographic distribution limit of the disease-transmitting tick Ixodes ricinus and an increased tick density between the early 1980s and mid-1990s in Sweden was related to climatic changes. The annual number of days with minimum temperatures above vital bioclimatic thresholds for the tick's life-cycle dynamics were related to tick density in both the early 1980s and the mid-1990s in 20 districts in central and northern Sweden. The winters were markedly milder in all of the study areas in the 1990s as compared to the 1980s. Our results indicate that the reported northern shift in the distribution limit of ticks is related to fewer days during the winter seasons with low minimum temperatures, i.e., below -12 degrees C. At high latitudes, low winter temperatures had the clearest impact on tick distribution. Further south, a combination of mild winters (fewer days with minimum temperatures below -7 degrees C) and extended spring and autumn seasons (more days with minimum temperatures from 5 to 8 degrees C) was related to increases in tick density. We conclude that the relatively mild climate of the 1990s in Sweden is probably one of the primary reasons for the observed increase of density and geographic range of I. ricinus ticks. Images Figure 1 Figure 2 Figure 3
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            The arrival, establishment and spread of exotic diseases: patterns and predictions.

            The impact of human activities on the principles and processes governing the arrival, establishment and spread of exotic pathogens is illustrated by vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, chikungunya, West Nile, bluetongue and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fevers. Competent vectors, which are commonly already present in the areas, provide opportunities for infection by exotic pathogens that are introduced by travel and trade. At the same time, the correct combination of environmental conditions (both abiotic and biotic) makes many far-flung parts of the world latently and predictably, but differentially, permissive to persistent transmission cycles. Socioeconomic factors and nutritional status determine human exposure to disease and resistance to infection, respectively, so that disease incidence can vary independently of biological cycles.
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              Hosts as ecological traps for the vector of Lyme disease.

              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.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Parasit Vectors
                Parasit Vectors
                Parasites & Vectors
                BioMed Central
                1756-3305
                2012
                10 January 2012
                : 5
                : 8
                Affiliations
                [1 ]Medical Entomology Unit, Department of Systematic Biology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18d, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden
                [2 ]Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80526, USA
                [3 ]Erik Petersson, Department of Animal Ecology, Evolutionary Biology Centre, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18d, SE-752 36 Uppsala, Sweden
                [4 ]Elisabet Lindgren, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, SE-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden
                Article
                1756-3305-5-8
                10.1186/1756-3305-5-8
                3311093
                22233771
                Copyright ©2012 Jaenson et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

                Categories
                Research

                Parasitology

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