Invasion of the lyme disease vector Ixodes scapularis: implications for Borrelia burgdorferi endemicity. Academic Article uri icon


  • 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.

published proceedings

  • Ecohealth

altmetric score

  • 4.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Hamer, S. A., Tsao, J. I., Walker, E. D., & Hickling, G. J.

citation count

  • 116

complete list of authors

  • Hamer, Sarah A||Tsao, Jean I||Walker, Edward D||Hickling, Graham J

publication date

  • January 2010