J Med Entomol. 2022 Aug 23:tjac121. doi: 10.1093/jme/tjac121. Online ahead of print.
To better understand tick ecology in Virginia and the increasing Lyme disease incidence in western Virginia, a comparative phenological study was conducted in which monthly collections were performed at twelve sampling locations in southwestern Virginia (high Lyme disease incidence) and 18 equivalent sampling locations in southeastern Virginia (low Lyme disease incidence) for one year. In western Virginia, we also explored the effect of elevation on collection rates of Ixodes scapularis Say (Acari: Ixodidae) and Amblyomma americanum (L.) (Acari: Ixodidae). In total, 35,438 ticks were collected (33,106 A. americanum; 2,052 I. scapularis; 134 Ixodes affinis Neumann [Acari: Ixodidae]; 84 Dermacentor variabilis [Say] [Acari: Ixodidae]; 49 Dermacentor albipictus [Packard] [Acari: Ixodidae]; 10 Haemaphysalis leporispalustris [Packard] [Acari: Ixodidae]; 2 Ixodes brunneus Koch [Acari: Ixodidae]; 1 Haemaphysalis longicornis Neumann [Acari: Ixodidae]). Within southwestern Virginia, Ixodes scapularis collection rates were not influenced by elevation, unlike A. americanum which were collected more frequently at lower elevations (e.g., below 500 m). Notably, I. scapularis larvae and nymphs were commonly collected in southwestern Virginia (indicating that they were questing on or above the leaf litter) but not in southeastern Virginia. Questing on or above the leaf litter is primarily associated with northern populations of I. scapularis. These findings may support the hypothesis that I. scapularis from the northeastern United States are migrating into western Virginia and contributing to the higher incidence of Lyme disease in this region. This comparative phenological study underscores the value of these types of studies and the need for additional research to further understand the rapidly changing tick-borne disease dynamics in Virginia.