Response of small mammal and tick communities to a catastrophic wildfire and implications for tick-borne pathogens

Emily L. Pascoe, Benjamin T. Plourde, Andrés M. Lopéz-Perez, Janet E. Foley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Through their potentially devastating impacts on the environment, wildfires may impact pathogen, vector, and host interactions, leading to changing risks of vector-borne disease in humans and other animals. Despite established risks for tick-borne disease and increasing frequency and severity of wildfires in the United States, impacts of wildfire on ticks and tick-borne pathogens are understudied. In 2015, the large Wragg fire extensively burned a long-term field site at Stebbins Cold Canyon University of California Reserve (CC). We characterized the tick, reservoir host and pathogen community over a two-year period after the burn, comparing our findings to pre-fire data and to data from Quail Ridge Reserve (QR), a nearby unburned site. After the fire, there were 5.5 times more rodent, primarily Peromyscus spp., captures at CC than QR (compared to 3.5 times more pre-fire). There were significantly fewer dusky-footed woodrats (Neotoma fuscipes) at both sites post-fire, likely due to drought but not fire. Pre-fire tick infestation prevalence on rodents was comparable across sites (12.5% at CC and 9.9% at QR) and remained low at CC post-fire (13.7%) but was significantly higher at QR (48.0%), suggesting that ticks or their habitat were destroyed during the burn. Normalized difference vegetation indices documented a 16-fold loss of vegetation post- compared to pre-fire at CC; loss of vegetation and direct impacts on fauna are likely the main drivers of the post-fire differences in ticks we saw at CC. These data contribute to our understanding of tick-associated disease risks in our increasingly disturbed landscapes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-284
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Vector Ecology
Volume45
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2020

Keywords

  • Fire ecology
  • host community
  • ticks
  • vector ecology
  • wildfire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

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