Worldwide distribution and diversity of seabird ticks: implications for the ecology and epidemiology of tick-borne pathogens

Muriel Dietrich, Elena Gómez-Díaz, Karen D McCoy
Vector Borne and Zoonotic Diseases 2011, 11 (5): 453-70
The ubiquity of ticks and their importance in the transmission of pathogens involved in human and livestock diseases are reflected by the growing number of studies focusing on tick ecology and the epidemiology of tick-borne pathogens. Likewise, the involvement of wild birds in dispersing pathogens and their role as reservoir hosts are now well established. However, studies on tick-bird systems have mainly focused on land birds, and the role of seabirds in the ecology and epidemiology of tick-borne pathogens is rarely considered. Seabirds typically have large population sizes, wide geographic distributions, and high mobility, which make them significant potential players in the maintenance and dispersal of disease agents at large spatial scales. They are parasitized by at least 29 tick species found across all biogeographical regions of the world. We know that these seabird-tick systems can harbor a large diversity of pathogens, although detailed studies of this diversity remain scarce. In this article, we review current knowledge on the diversity and global distribution of ticks and tick-borne pathogens associated with seabirds. We discuss the relationship between seabirds, ticks, and their pathogens and examine the interesting characteristics of these relationships from ecological and epidemiological points of view. We also highlight some future research directions required to better understand the evolution of these systems and to assess the potential role of seabirds in the epidemiology of tick-borne pathogens.

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