A multi-level analysis of the relationship between environmental factors and questing Ixodes ricinus dynamics in Belgium

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Abstract

BACKGROUND: Ticks are the most important pathogen vectors in Europe. They are known to be influenced by environmental factors, but these links are usually studied at specific temporal or spatial scales. Focusing on Ixodes ricinus in Belgium, we attempt to bridge the gap between current "single-sided" studies that focus on temporal or spatial variation only. Here, spatial and temporal patterns of ticks are modelled together.<br /><br />METHODS: A multi-level analysis of the Ixodes ricinus patterns in Belgium was performed. Joint effects of weather, habitat quality and hunting on field sampled tick abundance were examined at two levels, namely, sampling level, which is associated with temporal dynamics, and site level, which is related to spatial dynamics. Independent variables were collected from standard weather station records, game management data and remote sensing-based land cover data.<br /><br />RESULTS: At sampling level, only a marginally significant effect of daily relative humidity and temperature on the abundance of questing nymphs was identified. Average wind speed of seven days prior to the sampling day was found important to both questing nymphs and adults. At site level, a group of landscape-level forest fragmentation indices were highlighted for both questing nymph and adult abundance, including the nearest-neighbour distance, the shape and the aggregation level of forest patches. No cross-level effects or spatial autocorrelation were found.<br /><br />CONCLUSIONS: Nymphal and adult ticks responded differently to environmental variables at different spatial and temporal scales. Our results can advise spatio-temporal extents of environment data collection for continuing empirical investigations and potential parameters for biological tick models.

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Li, S., Heyman, P., Cochez, C., Simons, L., & Vanwambeke, S. O. (2012). A multi-level analysis of the relationship between environmental factors and questing Ixodes ricinus dynamics in Belgium. Parasites and Vectors, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1756-3305-5-149

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