Habitat-related variation in infestation of lizards and rodents with Ixodes ticks in dense woodlands in Mendocino County, California

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During the spring and early summer of 2002, we examined the relative importance of Borrelia-refractory lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis, Elgaria spp.) versus potential Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (s.l.)-reservoirs (rodents) as hosts for Ixodes pacificus immatures in 14 woodland areas (six oak, five mixed oak/Douglas fir, and three redwood/tanoak areas) distributed throughout Mendocino County, California. Lizards were estimated to serve as hosts for 93–98% of all larvae and ≥99.6% of all nymphs infesting lizards or rodents in oak woodlands and oak/Douglas fir sites in the southern part of the county. In redwood/tanoak woodlands and oak/Douglas fir sites in northern Mendocino County, the contribution of rodents to larval feedings reached 36–69% but lizards still accounted for 94–100% of nymphal bloodmeals. From late April to mid-June, I. pacificus larvae were recovered from 95 to 96% of lizards and dusky-footed woodrats (Neotoma fuscipes) and from 59% of Peromyscus spp. mice. In contrast, 99% of lizards but few woodrats (15%) and none of the mice were infested by nymphs. Comparisons of tick loads for 19 lizard–Peromyscus spp. mouse pairings, where the lizard and mouse were captured within 10 m of each other, revealed that the lizards harbored 36 times more larvae and >190 times more nymphs than the mice. In oak woodlands, loads of I. pacificus larvae decreased from late April/early May to late June for S. occidentalis lizards but increased for Peromyscus spp. mice. We conclude that the relative utilization of Borrelia-refractory lizards, as compared to rodents, by I. pacificus larvae was far higher in dry oak woodlands than in moister habitats such as redwood/tanoak and oak/Douglas fir woodlands in northern Mendocino County. Non-lizard-infesting potential enzootic vectors of B. burgdorferi s.l. (I. angustus and I. spinipalpis) were recorded from rodents in three of six oak woodland areas, two of five oak/Douglas fir woodland areas, and two of three redwood/tanoak woodland areas.

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