|Title||Species distribution models for the eastern blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis, and the Lyme disease pathogen, Borrelia burgdorferi, in Ontario, Canada|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2020|
|Authors||Slatculescu AM, Clow KM, McKay R, Talbot B, Logan JJ, Thickstun C, Jardine CM, Ogden NH, Knudby AJ, Kulkarni MA|
The blacklegged tick, Ixodes scapularis, is established in several regions of Ontario, Canada, and continues to spread into new geographic areas across the province at a rapid rate. This poses a significant public health risk since I. scapularis transmits the Lyme disease-causing bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, and other pathogens of potential public health concern. The objective of this study was to develop species distribution models for I. scapularis and B. burgdorferi to predict and compare the potential distributions of the tick vector and the Lyme disease pathogen as well as the ecological factors most important for species establishment. Ticks were collected via tick dragging at 120 sites across southern, central, and eastern Ontario between 2015 and 2018 and tested for tick-borne pathogens. A maximum entropy (Maxent) approach was used to model the potential distributions of I. scapularis and B. burgdorferi. Two independent datasets derived from tick dragging at 25 new sites in 2019 and ticks submitted by the public to local health units between 2015 and 2017 were used to validate the predictive accuracy of the models. The model for I. scapularis showed high suitability for blacklegged ticks in eastern Ontario and some regions along the shorelines of the Great Lakes, and moderate suitability near Algonquin Provincial Park and the Georgian Bay with good predictive accuracy (tick dragging 2019: AUC = 0.898; ticks from public: AUC = 0.727). The model for B. burgdorferi showed a similar predicted distribution but was more constrained to eastern Ontario, particularly between Ottawa and Kingston, and along Lake Ontario, with similarly good predictive accuracy (tick dragging 2019: AUC = 0.958; ticks from public: AUC = 0.863. The ecological variables most important for predicting the distributions of I. scapularis and B. burgdorferi included elevation, distance to deciduous and coniferous forest, proportions of agricultural land, water, and infrastructure, mean summer/spring temperature, and cumulative annual degree days above 0°C. Our study presents a novel application of species distribution modelling for I. scapularis and B. burgdorferi in Ontario, Canada, and provides an up to date projection of their potential distributions for public health knowledge users.