Rising burden of immature sheep ticks (Ixodes ricinus) on red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) chicks in the Scottish uplands

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The sheep tick Ixodes ricinus (L.) (Acari: Ixodidae) is an ectoparasite of major economic and pathogenic importance in Scotland. Its distribution in the Scottish uplands is assumed to be governed by the abundance and distribution of its definitive hosts (deer and sheep) and climatic variables such as temperature and rainfall. As the numbers of its major host in Scotland, red deer, have increased dramatically and climatic conditions have become more favourable, the level of parasitism could have been expected to rise. We use data gathered from tick counts on over 4000 red grouse chicks Lagopus lagopus scoticus Latham (Galliformes: Tetraonidae) in various experiments over the past 19 years to ascertain whether the intensity and prevalence of parasitism has been increasing.From 1985 to 2003 the average tick burden of a parasitized red grouse chick has grown from 2.60 ± 1.12 ticks per chick to 12.71 ± 1.44. Over this period the percentage of chicks of a given brood parasitized has also increased from 4 ± 2% to 92 ± 3%. The possible implications of this increase in parasitism for red grouse production are discussed.

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