Enhanced biosurveillance of high-consequence invasive pests: southern cattle fever ticks, Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus, on livestock and wildlife.
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BACKGROUND: Some tick species are invasive and of high consequence to public and veterinary health. Socioeconomic development of rural parts of the USA was enabled partly through the eradication by 1943 of cattle fever ticks (CFT, Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) annulatus and R. (B.) microplus). The southern cattle fever ticks (SCFT, R. (B.) microplus) remain a real and present threat to the USA animal agriculture because they are established in Mexico. Livestock-wildlife interactions in the Permanent Quarantine Zone (PQZ) established by the century-old Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Programme (CFTEP) in south Texas endanger its operations. METHODS: We describe a spatially-explicit, individual-based model that simulates interactions between cattle, white-tailed deer (WTD, Odocoileus virginianus), and nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) to assess the risk for SCFT infestations across the pathogenic landscape in the PQZ and beyond. We also investigate the potential role of nilgai in sustaining SCFT populations by simulating various hypothetical infestation and eradication scenarios. RESULTS: All infestation scenarios resulted in a phase transition from a relatively small proportion of the ranch infested to almost the entire ranch infested coinciding with the typical period of autumn increases in off-host tick larvae. Results of eradication scenarios suggest that elimination of all on-host ticks on cattle, WTD, or nilgai would have virtually no effect on the proportion of the ranch infested or on the proportions of different tick habitat types infested; the entire ranch would remain infested. If all on-host ticks were eliminated on cattle and WTD, WTD and nilgai, or cattle and nilgai, the proportions of the ranch infested occasionally would drop to 0.6, 0.6 and 0.2, respectively. Differences in proportions of the ranch infested from year to year were due to primarily to differences in winter weather conditions, whereas infestation differences among tick habitat types were due primarily to habitat use preferences of hosts. CONCLUSIONS: Infestations in nilgai augment SCFT refugia enabled by WTD and promote pest persistence across the landscape and cattle parasitism. Our study documented the utility of enhanced biosurveillance using simulation tools to mitigate risk and enhance operations of area-wide tick management programmes like the CFTEP through integrated tactics for SCFT suppression.