Colonization of Grande Comore island by a lineage of Rhipicephalus appendiculatus ticks.
Background: Union of the Comoros has been hit by a severe East Coast Fever epidemic in 2004. Rhipicephalus appendiculatus was likely involved in pathogen transmission as this competent tick species, although previously absent from Comoros, was sampled on 4 animals on one geographical site during the epidemic. We carried out an entomological survey on all 3 islands of Union of the Comoros to establish cattle' tick species distribution with a special emphasis on R. appendiculatus. We investigated R. appendiculatus intraspecific diversity as this species has been previously shown to be split off into two main cytoplasmic lineages with different ecology, physiology and vectorial competence. This survey also included sampling of live cattle imported from Tanzania to investigate the possibility of tick introduction through animal trade. Results: Our data show that Comoros' cattle are infested with Amblyomma variegatum, Rhipicephalus microplus and R. appendiculatus. This latter species has established throughout Grande Comore but is absent from Anjouan and Moheli. Interestingly, 43 out of the 47 sequenced R. appendiculatus ticks belong to one single highly competent lineage while ticks from the other lineage where only found on imported cattle or on cattle parked at the vicinity of the harbor. At last, 2 ticks identified as R. evertsi, a species so far virtually absent on Comoros, were sampled on imported cattle. Conclusions: This survey shows that importation of live cattle is clearly a source of vector introduction in Comoros. The wide distribution of one highly competent R. appendiculatus lineage on Grande Comore together with the absence of this species on the 2 neighbor islands is in accordance with the quick and disastrous spread of East Coast Fever epidemics on Grande Comore Island only. Whether the other R. appendiculatus lineage as well as R. evertsi species will succeed in establishing permanently on Grande Comore needs to be monitored.