The geographical expansion of the tick Ixodes ricinus in northern Europe is a serious concern for animal and human health. The pathogen Anaplasma phagocytophilum is transmitted by ticks and causes emergences of tick-borne fever (anaplasmosis) in livestock. The transmission dynamics of the different ecotypes of A. phagocytophilum in the ecosystems is only partly determined. Red deer and roe deer contribute to circulation of different ecotypes of A. phagocytophilum in continental Europe, while the role of moose for circulation of different ecotypes is not fully established but an important issue in northern Europe.
We determined infection prevalence and ecotypes of A. phagocytophilum in moose (n = 111), red deer (n = 141), roe deer (n = 28) and questing ticks (n = 9241) in Norway.
As previously described, red deer was exclusively linked to circulation of ecotype I, while roe deer was exclusively linked to circulation of ecotype II. Surprisingly, we found 58% ecotype I (n = 19) and 42% of ecotype II (n = 14) in moose. Both ecotypes were found in questing ticks in areas with multiple cervid species present, while only ecotype I was found in ticks in a region with only red deer present. Hence, the geographical distribution of ecotypes in ticks followed the distribution of cervid species present in a given region and their link to ecotype I and II.
Moose probably function as reservoirs for both ecotype I and II, indicating that the ecotypes of A. phagocytophilum are not entirely host-specific and have overlapping niches. The disease hazard depends also on both host abundance and the number of immature ticks fed by each host. Our study provides novel insights in the northern distribution and expansion of tick-borne fever.
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