, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 47–63 | Cite as

Invasion of the Lyme Disease Vector Ixodes scapularis: Implications for Borrelia burgdorferi Endemicity

  • Sarah A. HamerEmail author
  • Jean I. Tsao
  • Edward D. Walker
  • Graham J. Hickling
Original Contribution


Lyme disease risk is increasing in the United States due in part to the spread of blacklegged ticks Ixodes scapularis, the principal vector of the spirochetal pathogen Borrelia burgdorferi. A 5-year study was undertaken to investigate hypothesized coinvasion of I. scapularis and B. burgdorferi in Lower Michigan. We tracked the spatial and temporal dynamics of the tick and spirochete using mammal, bird, and vegetation drag sampling at eight field sites along coastal and inland transects originating in a zone of recent I. scapularis establishment. We document northward invasion of these ticks along Michigan’s west coast during the study period; this pattern was most evident in ticks removed from rodents. B. burgdorferi infection prevalences in I. scapularis sampled from vegetation in the invasion zone were 9.3% and 36.6% in nymphs and adults, respectively, with the majority of infection (95.1%) found at the most endemic site. There was no evidence of I. scapularis invasion along the inland transect; however, low-prevalence B. burgdorferi infection was detected in other tick species and in wildlife at inland sites, and at northern coastal sites in years before the arrival of I. scapularis. These infections suggest that cryptic B. burgdorferi transmission by other vector-competent tick species is occurring in the absence of I. scapularis. Other Borrelia spirochetes, including those that group with B. miyamotoi and B. andersonii, were present at a low prevalence within invading ticks and local wildlife. Reports of Lyme disease have increased significantly in the invasion zone in recent years. This rapid blacklegged tick invasion—measurable within 5 years—in combination with cryptic pathogen maintenance suggests a complex ecology of Lyme disease emergence in which wildlife sentinels can provide an early warning of disease emergence.


Borrelia burgdorferi Ixodes scapularis blacklegged tick Peromyscus leucopus invasion Lyme disease 



We thank M. Rosen, J. Sidge, T. Lickfett, N. Ochmanek, L. Alexander, E. Foster, G. Hamer, R. Henke, M. Kauffman, C. Niebuhr, P. Roy, and A. Rydecki for assistance with trapping, dragging, and laboratory work. J. Piesman and G. Dietrich at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided infected ticks for use as controls. Two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments. This study was funded by cooperative agreement no. cI00171-01 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (graduate assistantship to SAH), and G. H. Lauff Research Award and the T. Wayne and Katherine Porter Fellowships from Kellogg Biological Station. This is Kellogg Biological Station Contribution no. 1552.

Supplementary material

10393_2010_287_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (33 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (Bird-tick infestation prevalences on the inland and coastal transects in Lower Michigan, May–June, 2004–2008. Number of birds carrying larvae/nymphs/adults is indicated with the percent of birds infested with at least one tick of any life stage in parenthesis. All ticks were tested for Borrelia burgdorferi; those birds with infected ticks are indicated in Supplementary Material 2)
10393_2010_287_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (31 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (Infection prevalence of each species of tick removed from mammalian and avian hosts in Lower Michigan, May–June, 2004–2008. Infection prevalence is presented as the percent of ticks that tested positive with the sample size of ticks tested in parenthesis. Larval infection is reported as the minimum infection prevalence. LL = larvae; NN = nymph; AA = adult. Regarding birds, only those species with positive ticks are listed below; a complete list of all 56 bird species and associated ticks is provided in Supplementary Material 1)


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Copyright information

© International Association for Ecology and Health 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah A. Hamer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jean I. Tsao
    • 1
    • 2
  • Edward D. Walker
    • 3
  • Graham J. Hickling
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Fisheries and WildlifeMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.Department of Large Animal Clinical SciencesMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  3. 3.Department of Microbiology and Molecular GeneticsMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  4. 4.Center for Wildlife Health/NIMBioS, The National Institute for Mathematical and Biological SynthesisUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA

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