Harmful and Harmless Soil-Dwelling Fungi Indicate Microhabitat Suitability for Off-Host Ixodid Ticks

TitleHarmful and Harmless Soil-Dwelling Fungi Indicate Microhabitat Suitability for Off-Host Ixodid Ticks
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2024
Date Published03/2024
AuthorsGooding C, Gould L, Gries G
Keywords2-methylisoborneol; Beauveria bassiana; entomopathogenic fungus; hard ticks; off-host microhabitat

Following blood meals or questing bouts, hard ticks (Ixodidae) must locate moist off-host microhabitats as refuge. Soil-dwelling fungi, including entomopathogenic Beauveria bassiana (Bb), thrive in moist microhabitats. Working with six species of ixodid ticks in olfactometer bioassays, we tested the hypothesis that ticks avoid Bb. Contrary to our prediction, nearly all ticks sought, rather than avoided, Bb-inoculated substrates. In further bioassays with female black-legged ticks, Ixodes scapularis, ticks oriented towards both harmful Bb and harmless soil-dwelling fungi, implying that fungi-regardless of their pathogenicity-signal habitat suitability to ticks. Only accessible Bb-inoculated substrate appealed to ticks, indicating that they sense Bb or its metabolites by contact chemoreception. Bb-inoculated substrate required ≥24 h of incubation before it appealed to ticks, suggesting that they respond to Bb metabolites rather than to Bb itself. Similarly, ticks responded to Bb-inoculated and incubated cellulose but not to sterile cellulose, indicating that Bb detection by ticks hinges on the Bb metabolism of cellulose. 2-Methylisoborneol-a common fungal metabolite with elevated presence in disturbed soils-strongly deterred ticks. Off-host ticks that avoid disturbed soil may lower their risk of physical injury. Synthetic 2-methylisoborneol could become a commercial tick repellent, provided its repellency extends to ticks in diverse taxa.