Stable isotope analysis of Ixodes scapularis blood meal

How can we prevent tick-borne diseases in humans? The application of stable isotopes to questing ticks may identify their prior hosts, and if proven a successful method, we could better regulate the spread of Borrelia burgdorferi and other tick-borne pathogens. My honors thesis research was comprised of the collection of nymphal Ixodes scapularis and host Peromyscus leucopus, infestation and care of hosts during the holding period, and stable isotope analysis of the molted adult black-legged ticks. Over a holding period of up to seven days, ticks that fed on white-footed mice on corn diets had significantly higher δ13C but not δ15N than those fed on wild, standard, and meat diets. A model was created using blood meal signatures from ticks fed on various host species. When applied to field-collected ticks, the model’s successful identification of host by feeding guild or genus indicates the utility of stable isotopes as an alternative or enhancement to DNA-based methods in the trophic ecology of tick-borne diseases.

Figure legend: Left: Four-cluster analysis of δ13C and δ15N of adult ticks fed on hosts consuming a standard or wild diet, organized by feeding guild and species. Pseudoreplicates (multiple ticks fed on the same individual) used as means. Black points indicate samples, organized by species in shape, white points indicate cluster means.
Right: Four-cluster analysis of δ13C and δ15N of adult ticks fed on standard-fed or wild-fed hosts by feeding guild and species, overlaid by signatures of field-collected ticks fed on an unknown host. White points indicate cluster means.

In the media

My honor’s thesis research poster is available on the Steinmetz Symposium website. My biogeochemistry research in Bocas del Toro, Panama, is mentioned in an article on Union College’s website. An article was written about the interdisciplinary application of spectroscopy to both my pigment research and honor’s thesis on Union College’s website.

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