Due to climate change-induced alterations of temperature and humidity, the distribution of pathogen-carrying organisms such as ticks may shift. Tick survival is often limited by environmental factors such as dryness, but a predicted hotter and wetter world may allow the expansion of tick ranges. Dermacentor andersoni and D. variabilis ticks are morphologically similar, co-occur throughout the Inland Northwest of Washington State, U.S.A., and both can be injected with pathogenic Rickettsia and Francisella bacteria. Differences in behavior and the potential role of endosymbiotic Rickettsia and Francisella in these ticks are poorly studied. We wanted to measure behavioral and ecological differences between the two species and determine which, if any, Rickettsia and Francisella bacteria – pathogenic or endosymbiotic - they carried. Additionally, we wanted to determine if either tick species may be selected for if the climate in eastern Washington becomes wetter or dryer. We found that D. andersoni is more resistant to desiccation, but both species share similar questing behaviors such as climbing and attraction to bright light. Both also avoid the odor of eucalyptus and DEET but not permethrin. Although both tick species are capable of transmitting pathogenic species of Francisella and Rickettsia, which cause tularemia and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, respectively, we found primarily non-pathogenic endosymbiotic strains of Francisella and Rickettsia, and only one tick infected with F. tularensis subspecies holarctica.
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Vol. 45 • No. 2