Date of Award

6-2015

Degree Name

MS in Biological Sciences

Department

Biological Sciences

Advisor

Emily Taylor

Abstract

The Western Fence Lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis) is a major host of juvenile stages of the Western Black-legged Tick (Ixodes pacificus), which is the vector for the Lyme disease causative spirochete bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi in the western United States. Because S. occidentalis is reservoir incompetent and capable of eliminating spirochetes from infected ticks, it has been implicated as a major factor in the ecology of Lyme disease in the West. Although complement proteins in lizard blood have been established as the borreliacidal factor, no studies have examined intraspecific variability in host lizard borreliacidal capacity. In Chapter 1 of this thesis, we introduce the complexity of the Borrelia burgdorferi transmission cycle and it’s implications for transmission risk. In Chapter 2 we tested the hypothesis that host lizard physiological condition impacts their borreliacidal capacity. Blood plasma of lizards in varying physiological conditions was challenged against cultured B. burgdorferi, and the complement-mediated inactivation of spirochetes was quantified. Adult lizards had higher bactericidal activity than first-year juveniles, suggesting that complement-mediated inactivation develops with maturity and/or exposure to spirochete antigens. Also, bactericidal activity was positively associated with lizard tick load and body condition. Adult lizard sex did not significantly affect spirochete mortality. Lizards from an inland site with little exposure to ticks had higher bactericidal activity than lizards from a coastal population that is heavily parasitized by ticks.

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