Microhabitat choice and its role in determining the distribution of the reptile tick Amblyomma vikirri

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Abstract

Abstract A newly described tick species, Amblyomma vikirri, infests two lizard species in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. Although one of the hosts, Tiliqua rugosa, has a wide distribution, the tick distribution is restricted to a subset of rocky habitats where the other host, Egernia stokesii, lives. Experiments were conducted with unfed ticks, the stage when the tick is waiting for a host and is susceptible to desiccation. Amblyomma vikirri had a significantly stronger preference for rock microhabitats than two other tick species (Aponomma hydrosauri and Amblyomma limbatum) that infest T. rugosa. Unfed Amb. vikirri were also more active than the other two species, and more likely to be in the upper pan of the substrate. At warm temperatures, larvae of Amb. vikirri survived for shorter periods under desiccation stress than larvae of the other two species, although as nymphs Amb. vikirri survived as well or better. The rock crevice microhabitat experienced lower maximum temperatures than other potential, non-rock refuge sites. The behaviour of Amb. vikirri, its susceptibility to desiccation in the larval stage and the relatively benign conditions in the rock crevices may act together to prevent Amb. vikirri establishing populations beyond rock habitat.

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