Dispersal of ticks and their microorganisms by African-Western Palaearctic migratory birds

Sammanfattning: In Europe, tick-borne diseases are the most widespread and common vector-borne diseases and their geographical distribution is increasing. The dispersal of ticks depends on the movements of their vertebrate hosts. Avian hosts are more likely to be involved in long-distance range expansion of ticks due to their migration pattern. Billions of birds in the African-Palaearctic migration system migrate biannually between breeding grounds in the Palaearctic and wintering grounds in Africa and thereby create natural links between Africa, Europe, and Asia. In this thesis the dispersal of ticks and their microorganisms by northbound migratory birds utilizing flyways in the African-Western Palaearctic region has been investigated and the association between bird ecology and tick taxon addressed. The results suggest that long-distance migratory birds with wintering regions in Africa are involved in northward dispersal of the tick species Hyalomma rufipes, a known vector or Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus, and that birds with an open or wetland habitat have more H. rufipes in comparison to birds with a winter habitat comprising forest and shrubs. The results also suggest a role for birds in the ecology of Alkhurma hemorrhagic fever virus, a hemorrhagic flavivirus, and a potential mechanism for dispersal of the virus to new regions, including Europe and Asia Minor. The results did not provide evidence for immature ticks of the Hyalomma marginatum complex and birds having a major role in the ecology and northward dispersal of tick-borne Anaplasma phagocytophilum, a zoonotic bacterium causing febrile illness in humans and domestic animals. However, the results give support to the idea of a divergent enzootic cycle of A. phagocytophilum involving birds as hosts. Finally, the results of this thesis suggest that H. rufipes do not serve as vectors or contribute to the transmission of the tularemia-causing bacterium Francisella tularensis and that migratory birds do not contribute to northward dispersal of F. tularensis-infected ticks. However, the results suggest that migratory birds contribute to northward dispersal of H. rufipes carrying both Francisella and spotted fever group Rickettsia species, including Francisella-like endosymbionts and Rickettsia aeschlimannii. In conclusion, this thesis helps to clarify the knowledge about the dispersal of ticks and the microorganisms they carry by northbound migrating birds in the African-Western Palaearctic region. Furthermore, it highlights the need of establishing surveillance programs for monitoring the risk of introduction and establishment of important exotic tick species, such as H. rufipes, and tick-borne pathogens in the Western Palaearctic.