Interactions between sympatric invasive European fire ants ( Myrmica rubra ) and blacklegged ticks ( Ixodes scapularis )

by Lucy D. Guarnieri, Sara E. McBride, Eleanor Groden, Allison M. Gardner The blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and the invasive European fire ant (Myrmica rubra) are both expanding throughout their sympatric range in coastal New England.Ixodes scapularis is the primary vector of the bacteriumBorrelia burgdorferi, which is the causative agent of Lyme disease, and Mount Desert Island, Maine, home to Acadia National Park, currently is affected by a high Lyme disease burden. Ticks have many natural predators, including ants, although no previous studies have investigated interactions between these two species. To test the hypothesis that the presence ofM.rubra altersI.scapularis abundance, we collected ticks by drag-sampling at eight ant-infested sites and eight uninfested control sites in Acadia National Park. We found that nymph density was significantly higher at ant-infested sites, while larval density was significantly higher at control sites. In addition, we conducted a laboratory bioassay to measureM.rubra aggression againstI.scapularis larvae, nymphs, and adults andDermacentor variabilis adults, and found that ant aggression was significantly higher againstD.variabilis adults thanI.scapularis adults. Our findings support the hypothesis thatM.rubra has divergent effects acrossI.scapularis life stages, and we discuss possible ecological mechanisms, including optimal microclimate and predation, that could promote density of nymphs while inhibiting density of larvae.
Source: PLoS One - Category: Biomedical Science Authors: Source Type: research

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