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Predicting the northward expansion of tropical lineage Rhipicephalus sanguineus sensu lato ticks in the United States and its implications for medical and veterinary health


The tropical lineage within the Rhipicephalus sanguineus species complex is cause for growing concern in the U.S. based on its prominent role in creating and perpetuating multiple recently identified outbreaks of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. This lineage is undergoing a northward range expansion in the United States, necessitating the need for enhanced surveillance for Rh. sanguineus. To inform more focused surveillance efforts we use species distribution models (SDMs) to predict current (2015-2019) and future (2021-2040) habitat for the tropical lineage. Models using the MaxEnt algorithm were informed using geolocations of ticks genetically confirmed to be of the tropical lineage, for which data on 23 climatic and ecological variables were extracted. Models predicted that suitability was optimal where temperatures are relatively warm and stable, and there is minimal precipitation. This translated into habitat being predicted along much of the coast of southern states including California, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. Although the endophilic nature of tropical Rh. sanguineus somewhat violates the assumptions of SDMs, our models correctly predicted known locations of this tick and provide a starting point for increased surveillance efforts. Furthermore, we highlight the importance of using molecular methods to distinguish between ticks in the Rh. sanguineus species complex.

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