Effects of wildlife and cattle on tick abundance in central Kenya

Felicia Keesing, Brian F. Allan, Truman P. Young, Richard S. Ostfeld

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In African savannas, large mammals, both wild and domestic, support an abundant and diverse population of tick ectoparasites. Because of the density of ticks and the many pathogens that they vector, cattle in East Africa are often treated with acaricides. While acaricides are known to be effective at reducing tick burdens on cattle, their effects on the overall abundance and community composition of ticks in savanna ecosystems are less well understood. It is also not known how well tick populations can be maintained in the absence of large mammals. We evaluated the effects of wildlife and of acaricide-treated cattle on hostseeking tick populations in a long-term, exclusion experiment in central Kenya. Over seven years, we sampled larval, nymphal, and adult ticks monthly on replicated treatment plots that controlled for the presence of cattle and for the presence of two guilds of large wild mammals: megaherbivores (giraffes and elephants) and all other large wild herbivores (>15 kg). Two species of ticks were found in this habitat; across all surveys, 93% were Rhipicephalus pulchellus and 7% were R. praetextatus. The presence of acaricide-treated cattle dramatically reduced the abundance of host-seeking nymphal and adult ticks but did not affect the abundance of hostseeking larval ticks. The abundance of larval ticks was determined by the presence of large wild mammals, which appear to import gravid female ticks into the experimental plots. On plots with no large mammals, either wild or domestic, larval and nymphal ticks were rare. Adult R. pulchellus were most abundant in plots that allowed wildlife but excluded cattle. Adult R. praetextatus were relatively abundant in plots without any large mammals. These differences suggest that these ticks utilize different members of the host community. The reduction in ticks that results from the presence of acaricide-treated cattle has potential health benefits for humans and wildlife, but these benefits must be weighed against potential costs, including reduced availability of food for birds such as oxpeckers that feed on ticks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1410-1418
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2013


  • Amitraz
  • Cattle
  • KLEE
  • Kenya
  • Kenya Long-Term Exclusion Experiment
  • Parasite
  • Parasitism
  • Rhipicephalus praetextatus
  • Rhipicephalus pulchellus
  • Tick
  • Ungulate
  • Vector
  • Wildlife

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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