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Ecology of Lyme borreliosis: The role of terrestrial vertebrates

Ecology of Lyme borreliosis: The role of terrestrial vertebrates

Wiadomosci Ekologiczne 43(3): 207-222

Lyme borreliosis is a disease caused by a spirochete called Borrelia burgdorferi. These pathogenic bacteria are transmitted from animal to animal by ticks belonging to the family Ixodidae. These ticks, called vectors, are the parasites which, depending on their life stage, engorge on different free-living animals - mammals, birds and reptiles. People are exposed to a tick attack and contact with Borrelia burgdorferi, too. Wild vertebrates don't show morbid symptoms typical for Lyme borreliosis, but they serve as an infection source for ticks. If the host is a Borrelia burgdorferi spirochete carrier, ticks which parasitise him get infected and transmit bacteria to other vertebrates (Fig. 1). It is known that mammals are main tick hosts. In account of the fact that greater part of the tick population gets and feeds on mammals, these vertebrates are the main reservoir of the Lyme borreliosis spirochete. Infected immatural tick stages were found on vertebrates belonging to rodents (Rodentia) and insectivores (Insectivora). Adult stages preferably attack hoofed games and hares (Leporidae Table I). Ticks belonging to the family Ixodidae can feed on birds. Bird species inhabiting woods and taken terrestrial style of life serve as hosts for ticks very often. Therefore these birds which are most infested by ticks are the main reservoir of Borrelia burgdorferi spirochetes. Mainly these are the species belonging to the families: parulid warblers (Parulidae), warblers (Sylviidae), trushes (Turdidae), buntings (Emberizidae), wrens (Troglodytidae) and finches (Fringillidae) (Table II). Recent studies show that also seabirds can be a reservoir of these pathogenic bacteria (Table III). Seasonal migrations play an important role in the dispersion of Borrelia burgdorferi. Birds can carry infected ticks to new locations and can themselves serve as spirochete source. There are some suggestions that not all vertebrates are subjected to infections by Borrelia burgdorferi in the same way. Reptiles and several species of birds and mammals rather seldomly serve as spirochete reservoirs. They have a poor ability to transmit Borrelia burgdorferi to engorging ticks. For this reason it is impossible to univocally estimate their role as Borrelia burgdorferi reservoir and in the Lyme borreliosis dispersion. It is interesting to find out if the ecology of different animal species has an influence on their ability to serve as Borrelia burgdorferi reservoir.

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