Climate change and habitat fragmentation drive the occurrence of Borrelia burgdorferi, the agent of Lyme disease, at the northeastern limit of its distribution

Evol Appl. 2014 Aug;7(7):750-64. doi: 10.1111/eva.12165. Epub 2014 May 7.


Lyme borreliosis is rapidly emerging in Canada, and climate change is likely a key driver of the northern spread of the disease in North America. We used field and modeling approaches to predict the risk of occurrence of Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria causing Lyme disease in North America. We combined climatic and landscape variables to model the current and future (2050) potential distribution of the black-legged tick and the white-footed mouse at the northeastern range limit of Lyme disease and estimated a risk index for B. burgdorferi from these distributions. The risk index was mostly constrained by the distribution of the white-footed mouse, driven by winter climatic conditions. The next factor contributing to the risk index was the distribution of the black-legged tick, estimated from the temperature. Landscape variables such as forest habitat and connectivity contributed little to the risk index. We predict a further northern expansion of B. burgdorferi of approximately 250-500 km by 2050 - a rate of 3.5-11 km per year - and identify areas of rapid rise in the risk of occurrence of B. burgdorferi. Our results will improve understanding of the spread of Lyme disease and inform management strategies at the most northern limit of its distribution.

Keywords: Lyme disease; climate change; emergence; habitat fragmentation; range shift; white-footed mouse.