Modeling of historical and current distributions of lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum (Acari: Ixodidae), is consistent with ancestral range recovery

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The lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum L., is a three-host hard tick notorious for aggressive feeding behavior. In the early to mid-20th century, this species’ range was mostly limited to the southern USA. Since the 1950s, A. americanum has been detected in many new localities in the western, northcentral, and northeastern regions of the country. To examine the influence of climate on this apparent expansion, we used historical (1748–1950) lone star locations from the literature and museum records to model areas suitable for this species based on past environmental conditions in the late 1800s – early 1900s. We then projected this model forward using present (2011–2020) climatic conditions and compared the two for evidence of climate-associated distributional shifts. A maximum entropy distribution or Maxent model was generated by using a priori selected climatic variables including temperature, precipitation, and vapor pressure deficit. Temperature and vapor pressure deficit were selected as the most important factors in creating a sensitive and specific model (success rate = 82.6 ± 6.1%) that had a good fit to the existing data and was significantly better than a random model [partial ROC (receiver operating characteristic) to AUC (area under the ROC curve) ratio = 1.97 ± 0.07, P < 0.001]. The present projected model was tested with an independent dataset of curated museum records (1952–2020) and found to be 95.6% accurate. Comparison of past and present models revealed > 98% A. americanum niche overlap. The model suggests that some areas along the western fringe are becoming less suitable for A. americanum, whereas areas in some Great Lakes and coastal northeastern regions are becoming more suitable, results that are compatible with possible effects of climate change. However, these changes are minor, and overall climate in North America does not appear to have changed in ways significant to A. americanum’s distribution. These findings are consistent with an alternative hypothesis that recent changes in A. americanum’s distribution are a result of this species re-occupying its historical range, driven predominantly by factors other than climate, such as shifts in land use and population densities of major hosts.

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Experimental and Applied Acarology