Evidence for geographic variation in life-cycle processes affecting phenology of the lyme disease vector ixodes scapularis (Acari: Ixodidae) in the United States

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The seasonal activity pattern of immature Ixodes scapularis Say (Acari: Ixodidae) varies geographically in the United States, which may affect the efficiency of transmission cycles of pathogens transmitted by this species. To study the factors that determine seasonality, a multiyear study at seven sites across the geographic range of I. scapularis systematically collected questing ticks by fagging/dragging, and feeding ticks by capture of their hosts. The observed phenology patterns were consistent with previous studies reporting geographic variation in seasonal tick activity. Predictions of seasonal activity for each site were obtained from an I. scapularis simulation model calibrated using contemporaneous weather data. A range of scenarios for life-cycle processes-including different regimes of temperature-independent behavioral and developmental diapause, variations in temperature-development rate relationships, and temperature-dependent tick activity-were used in model formulations. These formulations produced a range of simulations of seasonal activity for each site and were compared against the field observed tick data using negative binomial regression models. Best fit scenarios were chosen for each site on the basis of Akaike's information criterion and regression model parameters. This analysis suggests that temperature-independent diapause mechanisms explain some key observed variations in I. scapularis seasonality, and are responsible in part for geographic variations in I. scapularis seasonality in the United States. However, diapause appears to operate in idiosyncratic ways in different regions of the United States, so further studies on populations in different regions will be needed to enable predictive modeling of climatic and climate change effects on I. scapularis seasonal activity and pathogen transmission.

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Journal of Medical Entomology