Within-population diversity of bacterial microbiomes in winter ticks (Dermacentor albipictus)

TitleWithin-population diversity of bacterial microbiomes in winter ticks (Dermacentor albipictus)
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsSperling J, MacDonald Z, Normandeau J, Merrill E, Sperling F, Magor KE
JournalTicks Tick Borne Dis
Date Published11/2020
KeywordsCervus canadensis, Dermacentor albipictus, ehrlichia, Francisella-like endosymbiont, Hill number, Sampling

The bacterial microbiome of ticks is notoriously diverse, but the factors leading to this diversity are poorly understood. We sequenced bacterial 16S rRNA amplicons from individual winter ticks, Dermacentor albipictus, to assess whether their one-host life cycle is associated with reduced bacterial diversity. On average, about 100 bacterial genera were found for individual ticks. Francisella-like endosymbiont (FLE) dominated bacterial communities, particularly in female ticks and in ticks that had fed. The remainder of the winter tick microbiome was highly variable. In addition to FLE, the main bacterial genera associated with winter ticks on elk were Pseudomonas, Ehrlichia, Asinibacterium, Acinetobacter and Streptococcus, although sequences associated with hundreds of other minor bacterial genera were detected. A complex interaction between richness and evenness was revealed in comparisons among tick life stages, using the Hill number series to show trends in diversity with decreasing emphasis on rare members of the assemblage. Male ticks had a significantly greater number of bacterial genera than females or nymphs, while males had greater evenness than females and similar evenness to nymphs. We intentionally sampled ticks from a single host species, North American elk, from a single location in Alberta, Canada, to constrain the ecological and blood meal variation that individuals experience through their life cycle. In spite of this, we found that the number of bacterial genera detected in this one-host tick system was remarkably diverse. The high taxonomic variability of the minor components of the winter tick microbiome suggests that this part of their microbiome diversity should be examined for functional significance.