Decreased small mammal and on-host tick abundance in association with invasive red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta).
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Invasive species may impact pathogen transmission by altering the distributions and interactions among native vertebrate reservoir hosts and arthropod vectors. Here, we examined the direct and indirect effects of the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) on the native tick, small mammal and pathogen community in southeast Texas. Using a replicated large-scale field manipulation study, we show that small mammals were more abundant on treatment plots where S. invicta populations were experimentally reduced. Our analysis of ticks on small mammal hosts demonstrated a threefold increase in the ticks caught per unit effort on treatment relative to control plots, and elevated tick loads (a 27-fold increase) on one common rodent species. We detected only one known human pathogen (Rickettsia parkeri), present in 1.4% of larvae and 6.7% of nymph on-host Amblyomma maculatum samples but with no significant difference between treatment and control plots. Given that host and vector population dynamics are key drivers of pathogen transmission, the reduced small mammal and tick abundance associated with S. invicta may alter pathogen transmission dynamics over broader spatial scales.