The abiotic and biotic factors that govern the spatial distribution of Lyme disease vectors are poorly understood. This study addressed the influence of abiotic and biotic environmental variables on Ixodes pacificus Cooley & Kohls (Acari: Ixodidae) nymphs, because it is the primary vector of Borrelia burgdorferi Johnson, Schmidt, Hyde, Steigerwaldt & Brenner in the far-western United States. Three metrics of Lyme disease risk were evaluated: the density of nymphs, the density of infected nymphs, and the nymphal infection prevalence. This study sampled randomly located plots in oak (Quercus spp.) woodland habitat in Sonoma County, CA. Each plot was drag-sampled for nymphal ticks and tested for B. burgdorferi infection. Path analysis was used to evaluate the direct and indirect relationship between topographic, forest structure and microclimatic variables on ticks. Significant negative correlations were found between maximum temperature in the dry season and the density of infected ticks in 2006 and tick density in 2007, but we did not find a significant relationship with nymphal infection prevalence in either year. Tick density and infected tick density had an indirect, positive correlation with elevation, mediated through temperature. This study found that in certain years but not others, temperature maxima in the dry season may constrain the density and density of infected I. pacificus nymphs. In other years, biotic or stochastic factors may play a more important role in determining tick density.
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Vol. 48 • No. 1