University of Montreal researchers are watching ticks (Ixodes scapularis) that carry Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) spread in Canada.
Their study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, aims to predict the communities most likely to be hit by Lyme disease.
“Our findings will help community groups and government agencies to alert the Canadians who may be at risk of picking up Lyme disease – those of us who like to visit the outdoors in spring and summer, when nymphal ticks are active but difficult to spot because of their size,” said lead author Patrick Leighton of the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Nymphal ticks are ticks that have not yet reached full maturity.
Changes in temperature are one of the most important factors that have contributed to the spreading of tick populations across Canada since 1990.
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With climate change, as average temperatures continue to increase over the coming decades, the area where ticks may live and reproduce will continue to reach further north.
The researchers explain “Climate suitability studies suggest that I. scapularis will continue to expand its range northward in the coming decades, invading the most densely populated regions of southern Canada, and that this process may be accelerated by climate warming. “
Lyme-transmitting ticks were virtually unknown in Canada in 1990, but today they may be found in areas where 18% of the country’s population lives. This figure will rise to 80% in eastern Canada by 2020, according to the researchers’ findings.
The parasites travel long-distance from the United States to settle new areas by attaching themselves to migratory birds, and once they have arrived, they colonize local areas by feeding on deer and small animals such as mice, squirrels and chipmunks.
The researchers’ prediction model was partially built on citizen participation and it was confirmed by research that was literally undertaken in the field. Pet owners bring ticks to their family veterinarians, who are then able to provide data to public health officials regarding where the parasites were found.
“Ongoing range expansion of I. scapularis makes Lyme disease an emerging threat to human and animal health in Canada,” the researchers note, and add, “Projected range expansion matches well with the locations of confirmed endemic populations of I. scapularis, identifying areas in south-east Manitoba, southern Ontario, south-west Quebec and Nova Scotia as foci of tick emergence in Canada. However, our model also suggests that variation in rainfall and elevation may accelerate or slow establishment within these regions.”
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Leighton, P. A., Koffi, J. K., Pelcat, Y., Lindsay, L. R. and Ogden, N. H. (2012), “Predicting the speed of tick invasion: an empirical model of range expansion for the Lyme disease vector Ixodes scapularis in Canada” Journal of Applied Ecology, 49: 457–464. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2012.02112.x published by the British Ecological Society, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Montréal, 3200 Sicotte, C.P. 5000, Saint-Hyacinthe, QC J2S 7C6, Canada