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      Lyme disease bacterium does not affect attraction to rodent odour in the tick vector

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          Vector-borne pathogens experience a conflict of interest when the arthropod vector chooses a vertebrate host that is incompetent for pathogen transmission. The qualitative manipulation hypothesis suggests that vector-borne pathogens can resolve this conflict in their favour by manipulating the host choice behaviour of the arthropod vector.


          European Lyme disease is a model system for studying this conflict because Ixodes ricinus is a generalist tick species that vectors Borrelia pathogens that are specialized on different classes of vertebrate hosts. Avian specialists like B. garinii cannot survive in rodent reservoir hosts and vice versa for rodent specialists like B. afzelii. The present study tested whether Borrelia genospecies influenced the attraction of field-collected I. ricinus nymphs to rodent odours.


          Nymphs were significantly attracted to questing perches that had been scented with mouse odours. However, there was no difference in questing behaviour between nymphs infected with rodent- versus bird-specialized Borrelia genospecies.


          Our study suggests that the tick, and not the pathogen, controls the early stages of host choice behaviour.

          Electronic supplementary material

          The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13071-015-0856-8) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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          Most cited references 75

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          The ecology of infectious disease: effects of host diversity and community composition on Lyme disease risk.

          The extent to which the biodiversity and community composition of ecosystems affect their functions is an issue that grows ever more compelling as human impacts on ecosystems increase. We present evidence that supports a novel function of vertebrate biodiversity, the buffering of human risk of exposure to Lyme-disease-bearing ticks. We tested the Dilution Effect model, which predicts that high species diversity in the community of tick hosts reduces vector infection prevalence by diluting the effects of the most competent disease reservoir, the ubiquitous white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus). As habitats are degraded by fragmentation or other anthropogenic forces, some members of the host community disappear. Thus, species-poor communities tend to have mice, but few other hosts, whereas species-rich communities have mice, plus many other potential hosts. We demonstrate that the most common nonmouse hosts are relatively poor reservoirs for the Lyme spirochete and should reduce the prevalence of the disease by feeding, but rarely infecting, ticks. By accounting for nearly every host species' contribution to the number of larval ticks fed and infected, we show that as new host species are added to a depauperate community, the nymphal infection prevalence, a key risk factor, declines. We identify important "dilution hosts" (e.g., squirrels), characterized by high tick burdens, low reservoir competence, and high population density, as well as "rescue hosts" (e.g., shrews), which are capable of maintaining high disease risk when mouse density is low. Our study suggests that the preservation of vertebrate biodiversity and community composition can reduce the incidence of Lyme disease.
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            Host association of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato--the key role of host complement.

            Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (s.l.), the tick-borne agent of Lyme borreliosis, is a bacterial species complex comprising 11 genospecies. Here, we discuss whether the delineation of genospecies is ecologically relevant. We provide evidence that B. burgdorferi s.l. is structured ecologically into distinct clusters that are host specific. An immunological model for niche adaptation is proposed that suggests the operation of complement-mediated selection in the midgut of the feeding tick. We conclude that vertebrate hosts rather than tick species are the key to Lyme borreliosis spirochaete diversity.
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              Manipulation of medically important insect vectors by their parasites.

               Hilary Hurd (2002)
              Many of the most harmful parasitic diseases are transmitted by blood-feeding insect vectors. During this stage of their life cycles, selection pressures favor parasites that can manipulate their vectors to enhance transmission. Strategies may include increasing the amount of contact between vector and host, reducing vector reproductive output and consequently altering vector resource management to increase available nutrient reserves, and increasing vector longevity. Manipulation of these life-history traits may be more beneficial at some phase of the parasite's developmental process than at others. This review examines empirical, experimental, and field-based evidence to evaluate examples of changes in vector behavior and physiology that might be construed to be manipulative. Examples are mainly drawn from malaria-infected mosquitoes, Leishmania-infected sandflies, and Trypanosoma-infected tsetse flies.

                Author and article information

                Parasit Vectors
                Parasit Vectors
                Parasites & Vectors
                BioMed Central (London )
                28 April 2015
                28 April 2015
                : 8
                Laboratory of Ecology and Evolution of Parasites, Institute of Biology, University of Neuchâtel, Rue Emile-Argand 11, 2000 Neuchâtel, Switzerland
                © Berret and Voordouw; licensee BioMed Central. 2015

                This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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