Stability of the southern European border of Echinococcus multilocularis in the Alps: evidence that Microtus arvalis is a limiting factor

Parasitology. 2014 Jun 16:1-10. doi: 10.1017/S0031182014000730. Online ahead of print.


SUMMARY The known range of the zoonotic fox tapeworm Echinococcus multilocularis has expanded since the 1990s, and today this parasite is recorded in higher abundances throughout large parts of Europe. This phenomenon is mostly attributed to the increasing European fox populations and their invasion of urban habitats. However, these factors alone are insufficient to explain the heterogeneous distribution of the parasite in Europe. Here, we analysed the spatial interrelationship of E. multilocularis with the known distribution of seven vole species in Ticino, southern Switzerland. Among 404 necropsied foxes (1990-2006) and 79 fox faecal samples (2010-2012), E. multilocularis was consistently found in the north of the investigated area. No expansion of this endemic focus was recorded during the 22 years of the study period. This stable endemic focus is coincident with the known distribution of the vole species Microtus arvalis but not, or only partly, with the distribution of the other autochthonous vole species. Our results give evidence that this vole species plays a crucial role in the maintenance of the parasite's life cycle and that its absence could be a limiting factor for the spread of E. multilocularis in this region.