Ticks and endangered voles linked by migrating birds

Jan 31, 2014

Migrating birds probably did it. That's what University of California, Davis, epidemiology professor Janet Foley says after DNA detective work confirmed that a disease-carrying tick only found in the southeastern United States has colonized a federally endangered rodent population in an extremely isolated patch of Mojave Desert wetlands.

DNA sequencing also shows that the relic population of Amargosa voles near Tecopa, Calif., just east of Death Valley National Park, and the that scientists know as Ixodes minor also share Borrelia burgdorferi, the tick-borne bacterium responsible for Lyme disease.

"It was a very unexpected finding," Foley, whose findings are being published this week in the journal Ecology and Evolution, said in an interview. "And, as a scientist enthralled by ticks and voles, terribly exciting, too."

Some would call that an understatement.

The few hundred Amargosa voles left on Earth cling to existence by their tiny claws in a few acres of bulrush surrounded by harsh desert terrain, which is uninhabitable for the tick that thrives in the dense, humid forests of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

"A possible explanation is that the ticks traveled with birds migrating from southeastern North America to Mexico or Central America and then up the West Coast flyway," Foley said.

The discovery was more bad news for efforts to save the Amargosa vole and its tiny, highly specialized habitat from extinction.

Threats to the vole include habitat loss and degradation due to water diversions and groundwater withdrawals; inbreeding; predation by foxes, coyotes, raptors and wading birds; and infectious diseases. In 2011, the population was devastated by ear lesions and deformities attributed to orange mites.

"The tick and voles exist in a network of migration patterns of perhaps many species," she said. "So, a fear is that if not Lyme disease, it could be the next pathogen or parasite that wipes them out."

Explore further: Scientists say polar bears won't thrive on land food

Related Stories

New tick-borne disease discovered

Sep 20, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Yale School of Public Health researchers in collaboration with Russian scientists have discovered a new tick-borne bacterium that might be causing disease in the United States and elsewhere. ...

Surprising study results: More cattle means less Lyme disease

Apr 16, 2012

(Phys.org) -- The abundance of cattle is the primary influence on the prevalence of two tick-borne pathogens, according to a paper in the April Applied and Environmental Microbiology. One of these, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, causes ...

Recommended for you

Scientists say polar bears won't thrive on land food

7 hours ago

A group of researchers say polar bears forced off melting sea ice will not find enough food to replace their current diet of fat-laden marine mammals such as seals, a conclusion that contradicts studies indicating ...

Emu movements chronicled in seed dispersal project

9 hours ago

GPS technology attached to emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae) has reinforced the role the world's second largest extant bird plays in dispersing seeds in the environment as well as indicate they have started ...

Pests are easier to combat in habitats rich in species

10 hours ago

A diverse and species-rich agricultural landscape is also beneficial to farmers. This isn't just because there are plenty of pollinating insects, creepy crawly pest controllers and other useful helpers. Scientists ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.