The effects of acaricide treatment of sheep on red grouse Lagopus lagopus scotica tick burdens and productivity in a multi-host system

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Abstract

Ixodes ricinus (Ixodida: Ixodidae) ticks are of economic and pathogenic importance across Europe. Within the uplands of the U.K., management to reduce ticks is undertaken to benefit red grouse Lagopus lagopus scotica (Galliformes: Phasianidae). Management strategies focus on the acaricide treatment of domestic sheep Ovis aries (Artiodactyla: Bovidae), but the effectiveness of this is less certain in the presence of wild hosts, particularly red deer Cervus elaphus (Artiodactyla: Cervidae) and mountain hare Lepus timidus (Lagomorpha: Leporidae). This study examines the effects of sheep management on grouse tick burdens and productivity using sites with a range of wild host densities. Sites at which applications of acaricide were more frequent had lower tick burdens; this relationship was similar on sites with a range of deer densities. However, no direct link was detected between acaricide treatment interval and grouse productivity. Sites with higher deer densities had higher grouse tick burdens and lower productivity [mean ± standard error (SE) young: adult ratio: 1.2 ± 0.2] compared with sites with lower deer densities (mean ± SE young: adult ratio: 1.8 ± 0.1). Sites with higher grouse brood sizes and higher proportions of hens with broods were also those with higher mountain hare abundance indices. This study highlights the importance of the frequent treatment of sheep with acaricide to reduce tick burdens on grouse, even in the presence of wild hosts.

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