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Mechai, Samir; Margos, Gabriele; Feil, Edward J.; Lindsay, L. Robbin; Michel, Pascal; Kotchi, Serge Olivier; Ogden, Nick H. (2018): Evidence for an effect of landscape connectivity on Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto dispersion in a zone of range expansion. In: Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases, Vol. 9, No. 6: pp. 1407-1415
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Abstract

In North America, different strains of the Lyme disease-causing bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto cluster into phylogenetic groups that are associated with different levels of pathogenicity and, for some, specific rodent reservoir hosts. Here we explore whether landscape connectivity, by impacting host dispersal, influences B. burgdorferi s.s. spread patterns. This question is central to modelling spatial patterns of the spread of Lyme disease risk in the zone of northward range-expansion of B. burgdorferi s.s. in southeastern Canada where the study was conducted. We used multi-locus sequence typing (MLST) to characterise B. burgdorferi s.s. in positive ticks collected at 13 sites in southern Quebec, Canada during the early stages of B. burgdorferi s.s. invasion. We used mixed effects logistic regression to investigate whether landscape connectivity (probability of connectivity;PC) affected the probability that samples collected at different sites were of the same strain (MLST sequence type: ST). PC was calculated from a habitat map based on high spatial resolution (15 m) Landsat 8 imagery to identify woodland habitat that are preferred by rodent hosts of B. burgdorferi s.s. There was a significant positive association between the likelihood that two samples were of the same ST and PC, when PC values were grouped into three categories of low, medium and high. When analysing data for individual STs, samples at different sites were significantly more likely to be the same when PC was higher for the rodent-associated ST1. These findings support the hypothesis that dispersion trajectories of B. burgdorferi s.s. in general, and some rodent-associated strains in particular, are at least partly determined by landscape connectivity. This may suggest that dispersion of B. burgdorferi s.s. is more common by terrestrial mammal hosts (which would likely disperse according to landscape connectivity) than by birds, the dispersal of which is likely less constrained by landscape. This study suggests that accounting for landscape connectivity may improve model-based predictions of spatial spread patterns of B. burgdorferi s.s. The findings are consistent with possible past dispersal patterns of B. burgdorferi s.s. as determined by phylogeographic studies.