Effects of an invasive forest pathogen on abundance of ticks and their vertebrate hosts in a California Lyme disease focus.
Invasive species, including pathogens, can have important effects on local ecosystems, including indirect consequences on native species. This study focuses on the effects of an invasive plant pathogen on a vertebrate community and Ixodes pacificus, the vector of the Lyme disease pathogen (Borrelia burgdorferi) in California. Phytophthora ramorum, the causative agent of sudden oak death, is a non-native pathogen killing trees in California and Oregon. We conducted a multi-year study using a gradient of SOD-caused disturbance to assess the impact on the dusky-footed woodrat (Neotoma fuscipes) and the deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus), two reservoir hosts of B. burgdorferi, as well as the impact on the Columbian black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus columbianus) and the western fence lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis), both of which are important hosts for I. pacificus but are not pathogen reservoirs. Abundances of P. maniculatus and S. occidentalis were positively correlated with greater SOD disturbance, whereas N. fuscipes abundance was negatively correlated. We did not find a change in space use by O. hemionus. Our data show that SOD has a positive impact on the density of nymphal ticks, which is expected to increase the risk of human exposure to Lyme disease all else being equal. A positive correlation between SOD disturbance and the density of nymphal ticks was expected given increased abundances of two important hosts: deer mice and western fence lizards. However, further research is needed to integrate the direct effects of SOD on ticks, for example via altered abiotic conditions with host-mediated indirect effects.