Within this research line, I study the relationship between the occurrence of different wildlife species and the presence and density of parasites and pathogens. So far, my main focus has been on ticks and tick-borne diseases, studying the relationship between the availability of different host species and the prevalence of tick-borne pathogens. I collaborate with public health officials, to bring this new ecological knowledge to policy makers, with the aim of making prevention methods more effective.
The number of ticks and the number of people diagnosed with tick-borne diseases are on the rise in many parts of the world. However, we still know relatively little about the ecology of the tick species that transmits most diseases in Europe (the sheep tick – Ixodes ricinus) and the different tick-borne pathogens that the sheep tick transmits.
Ticking off the ungulate box
From 2018-2022, I was involved in the PhD project of Nannet Fabri as co-supervisor. Nannet studied the role of ungulates in the maintenance and transmission of the sheep tick and several tick-borne pathogens. She combined a systematic review with fieldwork and mathematical modelling to try to disentangle the differential roles of moose, red deer, fallow deer, roe deer and wild boar. Similar to what I found during my own PhD, Nannet found that deer are important hosts for ticks and several tick-borne pathogens. However, she also showed that fallow deer are more important as hosts of ticks and amplifiers of Anaplasma phagocytophilum than the other deer species. At the same time, fallow deer also had the largest influence on ground vegetation, that potentially could reduce the suitability of habitat for ticks.
The kappa of her PhD thesis can be downloaded here.
The wild life of tick-borne pathogens
For my PhD thesis, I studied the influence of different vertebrate host species on the dynamics of sheep tick populations and seven different bacterial pathogens that are transmitted by the sheep tick. I found that small mammals, thrushes and deer are the most important hosts for the sheep tick. Small rodents and thrushes are also the most important species transmitting tick-borne pathogens to the sheep tick. The behaviour and density of these species are the main determinants of tick-borne disease risk as measured by the number of infected ticks in an area.
My Phd thesis can be downloaded here: http://edepot.wur.nl/393112