Distribution and prevalence of vector-borne diseases in California chipmunks (Tamias spp.)

Mary H. Straub, Austin N. Roy, Amanda Martin, Kathleen E. Sholty, Nicole Stephenson, Janet E Foley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


California, with 13 chipmunk (Tamias) species, has more than any other state or country, occupying habitats ranging from chaparral to the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Chipmunks host zoonotic pathogens including Yersinia pestis, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, relapsing fever (RF) Borrelia spp., Borrelia burgdorferi, and spotted fever group (SFG) Rickettsia species. Chipmunk species are often not differentiated by public health workers, yet different species utilize different ecological niches and may have intrinsically different capacities for maintaining vector-borne pathogens and infecting vectors. We surveyed over 700 individuals from nine species of chipmunks throughout California for exposure to and infection by Y. pestis, A. phagocytophilum, RF Borrelia spp., Borrelia burgdorferi, and SFG Rickettsia species. DNA of all five pathogens was found and all chipmunks except Merriam’s chipmunk (T. merriami) were PCR-positive for at least one of the pathogens. Anaplasma phagocytophilum was most common (40.0%, 2/5) in Sonoma chipmunks (T. sonomae) from Marin county and B. burgdorferi most common (37.5%, 27/72) in redwood chipmunks (T. ochrogenys) from Mendocino county. RF Borrelia spp. was detected in 2% (6/297) of redwood chipmunks in Mendocino county and 10% (1/10) of both least (T. minimus) and lodgepole (T. speciosus) chipmunks in the western Sierra. Exposure to SFG Rickettsia spp. was found in the Northern Coastal region (Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino counties) and in the northern and western Sierra in several species of chipmunks. Y. pestis infection was found only in the western Sierra-in a yellow-pine (T. amoenus) and a long-eared (T. quadrimaculatus) chipmunk. Though more data are needed to thoroughly understand the roles that different chipmunk species play in disease transmission, our findings suggest that some chipmunk species may be more important to the maintenance of vector-borne diseases than others within each geographic area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0189352
JournalPLoS One
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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