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  1. Dataset for the following paper: Cascading effects of mammal host community composition on tick vector occurrence at the urban human-wildlife interface Jonathan Bastard *, Nichar Gregory *, Maria Pilar Fernandez, Michaela Mincone, Olivia Card, Sara Kross, Maria Diuk-Wasser * These authors contributed equally. 
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  2. Abstract

    Although the role of host movement in shaping infectious disease dynamics is widely acknowledged, methodological separation between animal movement and disease ecology has prevented researchers from leveraging empirical insights from movement data to advance landscape scale understanding of infectious disease risk. To address this knowledge gap, we examine how movement behaviour and resource utilization by white‐tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) determines blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) distribution, which depend on deer for dispersal in a highly fragmented New York City borough. Multi‐scale hierarchical resource selection analysis and movement modelling provide insight into how deer's movements contribute to the risk landscape for human exposure to the Lyme disease vector–I. scapularis. We find deer select highly vegetated and accessible residential properties which support blacklegged tick survival. We conclude the distribution of tick‐borne disease risk results from the individual resource selection by deer across spatial scales in response to habitat fragmentation and anthropogenic disturbances.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024
  3. Abstract

    The range of hosts a pathogen can infect is a key trait, influencing human disease risk and reservoir host infection dynamics. Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto (Bb), an emerging zoonotic pathogen, causes Lyme disease and is widely considered a host generalist, commonly infecting mammals and birds. Yet the extent of intraspecific variation in Bb host breadth, its role in determining host competence, and potential implications for human infection remain unclear. We conducted a long-term study of Bb diversity, defined by the polymorphic ospC locus, across white-footed mice, passerine birds, and tick vectors, leveraging long-read amplicon sequencing. Our results reveal strong variation in host breadth across Bb genotypes, exposing a spectrum of genotype-specific host-adapted phenotypes. We found support for multiple niche polymorphism, maintaining Bb diversity in nature and little evidence of temporal shifts in genotype dominance, as would be expected under negative frequency-dependent selection. Passerine birds support the circulation of several human-invasive strains (HISs) in the local tick population and harbor greater Bb genotypic diversity compared with white-footed mice. Mouse-adapted Bb genotypes exhibited longer persistence in individual mice compared with nonadapted genotypes. Genotype communities infecting individual mice preferentially became dominated by mouse-adapted genotypes over time. We posit that intraspecific variation in Bb host breadth and adaptation helps maintain overall species fitness in response to transmission by a generalist vector.

     
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  4. Abstract Background The incidence of tick-borne disease has increased dramatically in recent decades, with urban areas increasingly recognized as high-risk environments for exposure to infected ticks. Green spaces may play a key role in facilitating the invasion of ticks, hosts and pathogens into residential areas, particularly where they connect residential yards with larger natural areas (e.g. parks). However, the factors mediating tick distribution across heterogeneous urban landscapes remain poorly characterized. Methods Using generalized linear models in a multimodel inference framework, we determined the residential yard- and local landscape-level features associated with the presence of three tick species of current and growing public health importance in residential yards across Staten Island, a borough of New York City, in the state of New York, USA. Results The amount and configuration of canopy cover immediately surrounding residential yards was found to strongly predict the presence of Ixodes scapularis and Amblyomma americanum , but not that of Haemaphysalis longicornis . Within yards, we found a protective effect of fencing against I. scapularis and A. americanum, but not against H. longicornis . For all species, the presence of log and brush piles strongly increased the odds of finding ticks in yards. Conclusions The results highlight a considerable risk of tick exposure in residential yards in Staten Island and identify both yard- and landscape-level features associated with their distribution. In particular, the significance of log and brush piles for all three species supports recommendations for yard management as a means of reducing contact with ticks. Graphical Abstract 
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  5. Abstract Background Public green spaces are important for human health, but they may expose visitors to ticks and tick-borne pathogens. We sought to understand, for the first time, visitors’ exposure risk and drivers of tick-preventative behavior in three popular parks on Staten Island, New York City, NY, USA, by integrating tick hazard and park visitors’ behaviors, risk perceptions and knowledge. Methods We conducted tick sampling in three parks, across three site types (open spaces, the edge of open spaces, and trails) and three within-park habitats (maintained grass, unmaintained herbaceous, and leaf litter) to estimate tick density during May-August 2019. Human behavior was assessed by observations of time spent and activity type in each site. We integrated the time spent in each location by park visitors and the tick density to estimate the probability of human-tick encounter. To assess visitors’ tick prevention behaviors, a knowledge, attitude, and practices (KAP) survey was administered. Results Three tick species ( Ixodes scapularis , Amblyomma americanum and Haemaphysalis longicornis) were collected. For all species, the density of nymphs was greatest in unmaintained herbaceous habitats and trails, however, the fewest people entered these hazardous locations. The KAP survey revealed that most respondents ( N  = 190) identified parks as the main location for tick exposure, but most believed they had minimal risk for tick encounter. Consequently, many visitors did not conduct tick checks. People were most likely to practice tick checks if they knew multiple prevention methods and perceived a high likelihood of tick encounter. Conclusions By integrating acarological indices with park visitor behaviors, we found a mismatch between areas with higher tick densities and areas more frequently used by park visitors. However, this exposure risk varied among demographic groups, the type of activities and parks, with a higher probability of human-tick encounters in trails compared to open spaces. Furthermore, we showed that people’s KAP did not change across parks even if parks represented different exposure risks. Our research is a first step towards identifying visitor risk, attitudes, and practices that could be targeted by optimized messaging strategies for tick bite prevention among park visitors. 
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  6. Gilbert, Jack A. (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT Host association—the selective adaptation of pathogens to specific host species—evolves through constant interactions between host and pathogens, leaving a lot yet to be discovered on immunological mechanisms and genomic determinants. The causative agents of Lyme disease (LD) are spirochete bacteria composed of multiple species of the Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato complex, including B. burgdorferi ( Bb ), the main LD pathogen in North America—a useful model for the study of mechanisms underlying host-pathogen association. Host adaptation requires pathogens’ ability to evade host immune responses, such as complement, the first-line innate immune defense mechanism. We tested the hypothesis that different host-adapted phenotypes among Bb strains are linked to polymorphic loci that confer complement evasion traits in a host-specific manner. We first examined the survivability of 20 Bb strains in sera in vitro and/or bloodstream and tissues in vivo from rodent and avian LD models. Three groups of complement-dependent host-association phenotypes emerged. We analyzed complement-evasion genes, identified a priori among all strains and sequenced and compared genomes for individual strains representing each phenotype. The evolutionary history of ospC loci is correlated with host-specific complement-evasion phenotypes, while comparative genomics suggests that several gene families and loci are potentially involved in host association. This multidisciplinary work provides novel insights into the functional evolution of host-adapted phenotypes, building a foundation for further investigation of the immunological and genomic determinants of host association. IMPORTANCE Host association is the phenotype that is commonly found in many pathogens that preferential survive in particular hosts. The Lyme disease (LD)-causing agent, B. burgdorferi ( Bb ), is an ideal model to study host association, as Bb is mainly maintained in nature through rodent and avian hosts. A widespread yet untested concept posits that host association in Bb strains is linked to Bb functional genetic variation conferring evasion to complement, an innate defense mechanism in vertebrate sera. Here, we tested this concept by grouping 20 Bb strains into three complement-dependent host-association phenotypes based on their survivability in sera and/or bloodstream and distal tissues in rodent and avian LD models. Phylogenomic analysis of these strains further correlated several gene families and loci, including ospC , with host-specific complement-evasion phenotypes. Such multifaceted studies thus pave the road to further identify the determinants of host association, providing mechanistic insights into host-pathogen interaction. 
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  7. Abstract

    We use mathematical modelling to examine how microbial strain communities are structured by the host specialisation traits and antigenic relationships of their members. The model is quite general and broadly applicable, but we focus onBorrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme disease bacterium, transmitted by ticks to mice and birds. In this system, host specialisation driven by the evasion of innate immunity has been linked to multiple niche polymorphism, while antigenic differentiation driven by the evasion of adaptive immunity has been linked to negative frequency dependence. Our model is composed of two host species, one vector, and multiple co-circulating pathogen strains that vary in their host specificity and their antigenic distances from one another. We explore the conditions required to maintain pathogen diversity. We show that the combination of host specificity and antigenic differentiation creates an intricate niche structure. Unequivocal rules that relate the stability of a strain community directly to the trait composition of its members are elusive. However, broad patterns are evident. When antigenic differentiation is weak, stable communities are typically composed entirely of generalists that can exploit either host species equally well. As antigenic differentiation increases, more diverse stable communities emerge, typically around trait compositions of generalists, generalists and very similar specialists, and specialists roughly balanced between the two host species.

     
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