Publications

Effects of cattle grazing on Ixodes ricinus-borne disease risk in forest areas of the Netherlands

Sprong, Hein; Moonen, Sander; Wieren, Sipke E. van; Hofmeester, Tim R.

Summary

Cattle grazing has been suggested to reduce the risk for Lyme borreliosis by decreasing the density of questing Ixodes ricinus infected with Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato. We tested the hypotheses that cattle grazing used in woodland management decreases the density of questing I. ricinus, and that it decreases the nympal infection prevalence of B. burgdorferi sensu lato. We further expected the nympal infection prevalence of tick-borne pathogens that utilize cattle as amplifying hosts, namely Anaplasma phagocytophilum, and Babesia sensu stricto, to increase. To test these hypotheses, we compared the densities of questing I. ricinus between twenty pairs of plots in grazed and ungrazed forest areas. The density of I. ricinus adults, but not nymphs, was lower in areas grazed by cattle than in ungrazed areas. Nymphs were tested for the presence of Borrelia burgdorferi s.l., Borrelia miyamotoi, Anaplasma phagocytophilum, and Babesia s.s. DNA from twelve paired areas. Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Babesia s.s. from qPCR-positive tick lysates were identified further to the ecotype and species level, respectively, by DNA sequencing. The infection prevalence of A. phagocytophilum was lower, and infection prevalence of Babesia s.s., identified as Babesia venatorum, was higher in grazed areas. In contrast, infection prevalence with B. burgdorferi s.l. or B. miyamotoi did not differ between grazed and ungrazed areas. As a consequence, conventional cattle grazing in forested areas had no effect on the densities of questing nymphs infected with B. burgdorferi s.l. and B. miyamotoi. Similarly, we found no effect of cattle grazing on the density of infected nymphs with B. venatorum. The marked difference in the densities of questing nymphs infected with A. phagocytophilum could potentially be explained by the presence of a higher density of roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) in ungrazed areas, as the majority of typed A. phagocytophilum from ungrazed areas were the non-zoonotic ecotype II, which is associated with roe deer.