Ticks over time

By informing mathematical models with empirical data from the field and lab, we aim to understand the long-term eco-evolutionary dynamics of tick-borne pathogens.

Research projects

The geographic spread of Babesia microti has followed that of Borrelia burgdorferi , with a time lag. In a longitudinal study since 2010, we have investigated the factors leading to tick and host coinfection and the increase in B. microti in in Connecticut, Maine and Rhode Island. We have learned that mouse coinfection with B. microti and B. burgdorferi can enhance each other’s abundance and that mice can transmit B. microti to their offspring. Mathematical modeling of data derived from field and lab studies are helping us disentangle how these interactions play out in different climates and ecological contexts.

Project leader: Danielle Tufts

COLLABORATORS: Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis (State University of New York Downstate); Ben Adams (University of Bath), Steven Davis (Melbourne Institute of Technology)

Diverse host communities are expected to host higher pathogen diversity if different hosts act as ‘niches’ for different strains of the pathogen (the ‘multiple niche polymorphism’ hypothesis). A key assumption is that pathogens or their genetic variants are differentially adapted – or specialized, to different hosts. We are investigating the tradeoff in generalist-specialist host exploitation strategies among strains of a tick-borne bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto, the in the United States. Using deep amplicon sequencing of samples from an 8-year-long study on Block Island, RI, laboratory experiments and mathematical modeling, we are testing the hypothesis that host specialization and antigenic distance traits are important drivers of Bb diversity, community structure and host specialization evolution.

Project leader: Danielle Tufts and Matthew Combs

COLLABORATORS: Yi-Pin Lin (New York State Department of Health, Wadsworth Center), Sergios-Orestis Kolokotronis (State University of New York Downstate), Ben Adams (University of Bath)