Potential geographic distribution of Ixodes cookei, the vector of Powassan virus

J Vector Ecol. 2021 Dec;46(2):155-162. doi: 10.52707/1081-1710-46.2.155.


Ixodes cookei Packard, the groundhog tick or woodchuck tick, is the main known vector of Powassan virus (POWV) disease in North America and an ectoparasite that infests diverse small- and mid-size mammals for blood meals to complete its life stages. Since I. cookei spends much of its life cycle off the host and needs hosts for a blood meal in order to pass to the next life stage, it is susceptible to changes in environmental conditions. We used a maximum-entropy approach to ecological niche modeling that incorporates detailed model-selection routes to link occurrence data to climatic variables to assess the potential geographic distribution of I. cookei under current and likely future climate conditions. Our models identified suitable areas in the eastern United States, from Tennessee and North Carolina north to southern Canada, including Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, southern Quebec, and Ontario; suitable areas were also in western states, including Washington and Oregon and restricted areas of northern Idaho, northwestern Montana, and adjacent British Columbia, in Canada. This study produces the first maps of the potential geographic distribution of I. cookei. Documented POWV cases overlapped with suitable areas in the northeastern states; however, the presence of this disease in areas classified by our models as not suitable by our models but with POWV cases (Minnesota and North Dakota) requires more study.

Keywords: Ecological niche modeling; Ixodes cookei; North America; Powassan virus; future climate scenarios; potential distribution.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • British Columbia
  • Disease Vectors
  • Encephalitis Viruses, Tick-Borne*
  • Encephalitis, Tick-Borne* / epidemiology
  • Ixodes*
  • Mammals
  • United States