Term of Award

Spring 2013

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology (M.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Department

Department of Biology

Committee Chair

Lorenza Beati

Committee Member 1

Lance Durden

Committee Member 2

Scott Harrison

Committee Member 3

Scott Harrison

Abstract

In this study we explored the hypothesis that the mitochondrial genetic diversity observed in Ixodes Scapularis ticks in the Southeastern United States is maintained through assortative mating. The study of 319 couples of ticks collected in copula from deer at the Savannah River Site (Aiken, SC) showed that ticks assigned to mitochondrial (12SrDNA and d-loop genes) phylogenetic monophyletic clades do not chose their mating partner based on genetic similarity or genetic diversity. The genetic composition of couples did not differ significantly from random choice. Our data indicate that if genetic diversity is maintained in this tick population, this cannot be attributed to assortative mating. During this survey of the tick Ixodes scapularis collected from deer at the Savannah River Site (Aiken, SC) deer check stations, it became evident that this tick preferentially feeds on male deer. I. scapularis prevalence rates on male and female deer were compared and revealed that the sex bias was significant (p < 0.0001) and did not depend on deer weight (r2 = 0.143). Data also indicated that tick loads on deer were not directly related to tick density in the vegetation (r2 = 0.082), which is possibly due to the fact that specific sites where deer are killed during hunts do not always correspond to the normal deer range.

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