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Modeling Climate Suitability of the Western Blacklegged Tick in California


Ixodes pacificus Cooley & Kohls (Acari: Ixodidae), the primary vector of Lyme disease spirochetes to humans in the far-western United States, is broadly distributed across Pacific Coast states, but its distribution is not uniform within this large, ecologically diverse region. To identify areas of suitable habitat, we assembled records of locations throughout California where two or more I. pacificus were collected from vegetation from 1980 to 2014. We then employed ensemble species distribution modeling to identify suitable climatic conditions for the tick and restricted the results to land cover classes where these ticks are typically encountered (i.e., forest, grass, scrub-shrub, riparian). Cold-season temperature and rainfall are particularly important abiotic drivers of suitability, explaining between 50 and 99% of the spatial variability across California among models. The likelihood of an area being classified as suitable increases steadily with increasing temperatures >0°C during the coldest quarter of the year, and further increases when precipitation amounts range from 400 to 800 mm during the coldest quarter, indicating that areas in California with relatively warm and wet winters typically are most suitable for I. pacificus. Other consistent predictors of suitability include increasing autumn humidity, temperatures in the warmest month between 23 and 33°C, and low-temperature variability throughout the year. The resultant climatic suitability maps indicate that coastal California, especially the northern coast, and the western Sierra Nevada foothills have the highest probability of I. pacificus presence.

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