Small-mammal characteristics affect tick communities in southwestern Tennessee (USA)


Life histories can influence the degree of parasite infestations on a host. Pressures exerted on hosts based on age and sex convey varying degrees of parasite prevalence due to differences in host lifestyles, but it is not known how interactions between different host traits affect tick numbers. The objective of this study was to determine if host characteristics (e.g., age, sex, weight, and their interactions) affect the mean number of ticks found on small mammals regardless of host species or habitat. Sherman live traps were placed in forest and grass/forb habitats representative of the southeastern United States. After capture, host characteristics were recorded, and hosts were then searched for ticks. A total of 281 small mammals (148 Peromyscus leucopus, 34 P. maniculatus, 76 Sigmodon hispidus, 16 Microtus pinetorum, and 7 Ochrotomys nuttalli) and 610 ticks (488 Dermacentor variabilis, 114 Ixodes scapularis, 1 Amblyomma americanum, and 7 A. maculatum) were collected in this study. Host's age, sex, and weight affected the number of ticks collected from small mammals and significant interaction effects between host traits occurred (weight by sex, weight by age, and sex by age). For instance, female subadult rodents had significantly more ticks compared to female adults, male subadults had significantly fewer ticks compared to male adults, and the number of ticks on a host increased as host body mass increased. These results support the hypothesis that the number of ticks vary on rodent hosts based on life histories and trait interactions. Therefore, understanding the behavioral mechanisms of a host can aid in the management of parasites in the environment.

Publication Title

International Journal for Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife