The relationships between habitat topology, critical scales of connectivity and tick abundance Ixodes ricinus in a heterogeneous landscape in northern Spain

Authors

  • Agustin Estrada-Peña


A. Estrada-Peña (aestrada@unizar.es), Dept of Parasitology, Veterinary Fac., Miguel Servet 177, E-50013 Zaragoza, Spain.

Abstract

The habitat mosaic was used to quantify connectivity between patches of different tick density of the notorious tick species Ixodes ricinus in an attempt to determine the cause of variations in tick abundance among apparently homogeneous sites in northern Spain. The analysis revealed that patches with high tick abundance are “stepping-stone” territories that, when removed from the landscape, cause large changes in connectivity. Sites with medium tick abundance do not cause such a critical transition in connectivity. Patches with low tick abundance, but optimal abiotic conditions for survival, are located within the minimum cost corridors network joining the patches, while those sites where the tick has been intermittently collected are located at variable distances from this network. Sites where the tick is consistently absent, but where the habitat is predicted to be suitable (old, heterogeneous forests of Quercus spp.) for the tick, are very separated from this main network of connections. These results suggest that tick distribution in a zone is highly affected not only by abiotic variables (vegetation and weather) but also by host movements. Dispersal of the tick is a function of how the hosts perceive the habitat, and the habitat's permeability to host movement. Permanent tick populations seem to be supported by the existence of these critical, high density patches, located at significant places within the habitat network.

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