Warm places, warm years, and warm seasons increase parasitizing of moose by winter ticks

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Observed links between parasites, such as ticks, and climate change have aroused concern for human health, wildlife population dynamics, and broader ecosystem effects. The one-host life history of the winter tick (Dermacentor albipictus) links each annual cohort to environmental conditions during three specific time periods when they are predictably vulnerable: spring detachment from hosts, summer larval stage, and fall questing for hosts. We used mixed-effects generalized linear models to investigate the drivers of tick loads carried by moose (Alces alces) relative to these time periods and across 750 moose, 10 years, and 16 study areas in the western United States. We tested for the effects of biotic factors (moose density, shared winter range, vegetation, migratory behavior) and weather conditions (temperature, snow, humidity) during each seasonal period when ticks are vulnerable and off-host. We found that warm climatic regions, warm seasonal periods across multiple partitions of the annual tick life cycle, and warm years relative to long-term averages each contributed to increased tick loads. We also found important effects of snow and other biotic factors such as host density and vegetation. Tick loads in the western United States were, on average, lower than those where tick-related die-offs in moose populations have occurred recently, but loads carried by some individuals may be sufficient to cause mortality. Lastly, we found interannual variation in tick loads to be most correlated with spring snowpack, suggesting this environmental component may have the highest potential to induce change in tick load dynamics in the immediate future of this region.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Warm places, warm years, and warm seasons increase parasitizing of moose by winter ticks
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.4799
Volume 15
Issue 3
Year Published 2024
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center
Description e4799, 15 p.
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