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Ecology of ticks and microbes in Australian wildlife

Egan, Siobhon LeeORCID: 0000-0003-4395-4069 (2022) Ecology of ticks and microbes in Australian wildlife. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Ticks (Ixodida) represent one of the most important vector groups affecting human and animal health, and in recent years there have been increasing concerns regarding the cause of tick-borne disease affecting Australians. Worldwide, wildlife health surveillance is recognised as a key tool for investigating tick-borne infections and a One Health approach is essential to understand the epidemiology of tick-associated microbes. Therefore, this research aimed to; i) identify ticks from Australian wildlife; ii) investigate bacteria and haemoprotozoa present in wildlife and ticks; and iii) characterise microbes and understand the interplay between host-microbetick. Molecular tools were used to assist in the identification of Australian ticks. Museum specimens of the human biting tick Amblyomma triguttatum were used to investigate the molecular systematics of this species complex. A set of molecular barcodes was developed for Australian ticks, which was important for the accurate identification of immature life stages and cryptic species. Additionally, a novel 12S rDNA metabarcoding assay was developed for high throughput identification of ticks. Free-ranging animals and their ticks were sampled from urban and periurban areas. The bacterial and haemoprotozoan diversity was characterised using a combination of amplicon high-throughput sequencing, targeted Sanger sequencing, and microscopy. Bacterial profiling generated over 100 million sequences. Statistical analysis using constrained ordination methods revealed blood, tick and tissues had distinct community signatures. A diverse range of tick associated microbes was identified, such as Anaplasmataceae, Bartonellaceae, Borreliaceae, Coxiellaceae, Midichloriaceae. Overall, these microbes were rare in wildlife hosts and generally confined to specific sample types. In addition, eight species of haemoprotozoa were identified, including species within the genera Babesia, Hepatozoon, Theileria and Trypanosoma. Lastly, this study further confirmed the absence of northern hemisphere tick-borne pathogens and provided further evidence of the unique microbes present in Australian wildlife and ticks.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Centre for Biosecurity and One Health
Harry Butler Institute
Supervisor(s): Oskam, Charlotte, Irwin, Peter, Ryan, Una and Banks, P.
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