Through their potentially devastating impacts on the environment, wildfires may impact pathogen, vector, and host interactions, leading to changing risks of vector-borne disease in humans and other animals. Despite established risks for tick-borne disease and increasing frequency and severity of wildfires in the United States, impacts of wildfire on ticks and tick-borne pathogens are understudied. In 2015, the large Wragg fire extensively burned a long-term field site at Stebbins Cold Canyon University of California Reserve (CC). We characterized the tick, reservoir host and pathogen community over a two-year period after the burn, comparing our findings to pre-fire data and to data from Quail Ridge Reserve (QR), a nearby unburned site. After the fire, there were 5.5 times more rodent, primarily Peromyscus spp., captures at CC than QR (compared to 3.5 times more pre-fire). There were significantly fewer dusky-footed woodrats (Neotoma fuscipes) at both sites post-fire, likely due to drought but not fire. Pre-fire tick infestation prevalence on rodents was comparable across sites (12.5% at CC and 9.9% at QR) and remained low at CC post-fire (13.7%) but was significantly higher at QR (48.0%), suggesting that ticks or their habitat were destroyed during the burn. Normalized difference vegetation indices documented a 16-fold loss of vegetation post-compared to pre-fire at CC; loss of vegetation and direct impacts on fauna are likely the main drivers of the post-fire differences in ticks we saw at CC. These data contribute to our understanding of tick-associated disease risks in our increasingly disturbed landscapes.
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Vol. 45 • No. 2