Vector-Borne Disease Dynamics of Alabama White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)
Type of DegreeMaster's Thesis
Forestry and Wildlife Science
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Understanding long-term dynamics of ectoparasite populations on hosts is essential to mapping the potential transmission of disease causing agents and pathogens. Blood feeding ectoparasites such as ticks, lice and keds have a great capability to transmit pathogens throughout a wildlife system. Here, we use a semi-wild white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) population in an enclosed facility to better understand the role of high-density host populations with improved body conditions in facilitating parasite dynamics. As definitive hosts and breeding grounds for arthropods that may transmit blood-borne pathogens, this population may also be used as a sentinel system of pathogens in the ecosystem. This also mimics systems where populations are fragmented due to human encroachment or through specialized management techniques. We noted a significant increase in ectoparasitism by ticks (p=0.04) over a nine-year study period where deer were collected, and ticks quantified. Beginning in 2016 we implemented a comparison of quantification methods for ectoparasites in addition to ticks and noted that white-tailed deer within the enclosure were more likely to be parasitized by the neotropical deer ked (Lipoptena mazamae) than any tick or louse species. Additionally, analysis of blood collected from sampled deer between 2016 and 2018 by PCR isolated four Bartonella spp. present within the blood of enclosed deer. Together, these works inform us about the potential dynamics of ectoparasite communities long term, and how host populations could affect ectoparasite communities, providing insight into potential disease transmission.