Factors affecting the microbiome of Ixodes scapularis and Amblyomma americanum




The microbial community composition of disease vectors can impact pathogen establishment and transmission as well as on vector behavior and fitness. While data on vector microbiota are accumulating quickly, determinants of the variation in disease vector microbial communities are incompletely understood. We explored the microbiome of two human-biting tick species abundant in eastern North America (Amblyomma americanum and Ixodes scapularis) to identify the relative contribution of tick species, tick life stage, tick sex, environmental context and vertical transmission to the richness, diversity, and species composition of the tick microbiome. We sampled 89 adult and nymphal Ixodes scapularis (N = 49) and Amblyomma americanum (N = 40) from two field sites and characterized the microbiome of each individual using the v3-v4 hypervariable region of the 16S rRNA gene. We identified significant variation in microbial community composition due to tick species and life stage with lesser impact of sampling site. Compared to unfed nymphs and males, the microbiome of engorged adult female I. scapularis, as well as the egg masses they produced, were low in bacterial richness and diversity and were dominated by Rickettsia, suggesting strong vertical transmission of this genus. Likewise, microbiota of A. americanum nymphs and males were more diverse than those of adult females. Among bacteria of public health importance, we detected several different Rickettsiasequence types, several of which were distinct from known species. Borrelia was relatively common in I. scapularis but did not show the same level of sequence variation as Rickettsia. Several bacterial genera were significantly over-represented in Borrelia-infected I. scapularis, suggesting a potential interaction of facilitative relationship between these taxa; no OTUs were under-represented in Borrelia-infected ticks. The systematic sampling we conducted for this study allowed us to partition the variation in tick microbial composition as a function of tick- and environmentally-related factors. Upon more complete understanding of the forces that shape the tick microbiome it will be possible to design targeted experimental studies to test the impacts of individual taxa and suites of microbes on vector-borne pathogen transmission and on vector biology.

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Copyright: © 2020 Brinkerhoff et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

This article first appeared in PLoS One 15, no. 5 (May 15, 2020).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0232398

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