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Ticks as Soil-Dwelling Arthropods: An Intersection Between Disease and Soil Ecology

Journal Article

Ticks are widespread vectors for many important medical and veterinary infections, and a better understanding of the factors that regulate their population dynamics is needed to reduce risk for humans, wildlife, and domestic animals. Most ticks, and all non-nidicolous tick species, spend only a small fraction of their lives associated with vertebrate hosts, with the remainder spent in or on soils and other substrates. Ecological studies of tick-borne disease dynamics have emphasized tick–host interactions, including host associations, burdens, and efficiencies of pathogen transmission, while under emphasizing tick biology during off-host periods. Our ability to predict spatiotemporal trends in tick-borne diseases requires more knowledge of soil ecosystems and their effect on host and tick populations. In this review, we focus on tick species of medical and veterinary concern and describe: 1) the relationships between soil factors and tick densities; 2) biotic and abiotic factors within the soil ecosystem that directly affect tick survival; 3) potential indirect effects on ticks mediated by soil ecosystem influences on their vertebrate hosts; 4) the potential for tick-mediated effects on vertebrate host populations to affect ecosystems; and 5) possible nontarget impacts of tick management on the soil ecosystem. Soils are complex ecosystem components with enormous potential to affect the survival and behavior of ticks during their off-host periods. Hence, tick-borne disease systems present an excellent opportunity for soil ecologists and public health researchers to collaborate and improve understanding of these medically important and ecologically complex disease cycles.

Year of Publication
Journal of Medical Entomology
Oxford University Press (OUP)
0022-2585, 1938-2928
DOI 10.1093/jme/tjz116