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Keywords:

  • Adaptation;
  • evolution;
  • experiment;
  • nymphs;
  • phenotypic plasticity;
  • questing

Abstract

Climate warming is changing distributions and phenologies of many organisms and may also impact on vectors of disease-causing pathogens. In Europe, the tick Ixodes ricinus is the primary vector of medically important pathogens (e.g., Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, the causative agent of Lyme borreliosis). How might climate change affect I. ricinus host-seeking behavior (questing)? We hypothesize that, in order to maximize survival, I. ricinus have adapted their questing in response to temperature in accordance with local climates. We predicted that ticks from cooler climates quest at cooler temperatures than those from warmer climates. This would suggest that I. ricinus can adapt and therefore have the potential to be resilient to climate change. I. ricinus were collected from a cline of climates using a latitudinal gradient (northeast Scotland, North Wales, South England, and central France). Under laboratory conditions, ticks were subjected to temperature increases of 1°C per day, from 6 to 15°C. The proportion of ticks questing was recorded five times per temperature (i.e., per day). The theoretical potential to quest was then estimated for each population over the year for future climate change projections. As predicted, more ticks from cooler climates quested at lower temperatures than did ticks from warmer climates. The proportion of ticks questing was strongly associated with key climate parameters from each location. Our projections, based on temperature alone, suggested that populations could advance their activity season by a month under climate change, which has implications for exposure periods of hosts to tick-borne pathogens. Our findings suggest that I. ricinus have adapted their behavior in response to climate, implying some potential to adapt to climate change. Predictive models of I. ricinus dynamics and disease risk over continental scales would benefit from knowledge of these differences between populations.