, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 320-331

Effect of Forest Fragmentation on Tick Infestations of Birds and Tick Infection Rates by Rickettsia in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil

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Abstract

Habitat loss and modifications affect biodiversity, potentially contributing to outbreaks of infectious diseases. We evaluated if the patch sizeinfragmented areas of Atlantic Forest in southeastern Brazil influences the diversity of forest birds and consequently the prevalence of ticks on birds and the rickettsial infection of these ticks. During 2 years, we collected ticks from birds in 12 sites: four small forest patches (80–140 ha), four large ones (480–1,850 ha), and four forest control areas within the much larger Morro do Diabo State Park (~36,000 ha). A total of 1,725 birds were captured (81 species, 24 families), from which 223 birds were infested by 2,339 ticks of the genus Amblyomma, mostly by the species A. nodosum. Bird diversity and richness were higher in larger than smaller forest fragments. The prevalence of ticks on birds was inversely correlated with bird diversity and richness. Among 174 A. nodosum tested for rickettsial infection by polymerase chain reaction, 51 were found to be infected by Rickettsia bellii or Rickettsia parkeri. However, tick infection rates by Rickettsia spp. were not statistically different between forest patch sizes. The higher prevalence of ticks on birds in degraded patches might be caused by a dominance of a few generalist bird species in small patches, allowing an easier transmission of parasites among individuals. It could also be related to more favorable microclimatic conditions for the free-living stages of A. nodosum in smaller forest fragments.The higher burden of ticks on birds in smaller forest fragments is an important secondary effect of habitat fragmentation, possibly increasing the likelihood of Rickettsia contagion.