Tick distributions in the UK

2023-2024. Funded by University of Bristol, Bristol Inspired Research Challenge Areas 23/24. Co-I Dann Mitchell

One of the most uncertain health outcomes of future climate change in the UK comes from infectious diseases. Ticks are an important disease vector of zoonotic diseases such as Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis virus. Here, we are keen to start understanding how different climate scenarios, land use change, and extreme weather, project onto tick distributions in the UK, which will influence the potential for transmission of tick-borne diseases. We include tick species that are already found in the UK, and those which could potentially survive or spread in the UK given warmer winters, such as Ixodes spp and Dermacenter reticulatus. Ultimately, we are keen to utilise unique modelling and data science techniques from Bristol researchers, and couple that to unique data we have from weather and tick measurements.

The ultimate goal of our work is to develop a model of potential tick and tick-borne disease distributions which is targeted for the UK. To progress towards this goal, the project seeks to review current models linking weather and climate conditions to tick distributions in the UK and elsewhere, and use that to highlight the gaps that can be filled with Bristol methodological expertise. Tick distributions are affected by host availability and microclimate/microhabitat, while tick development rates and generation times are affected by weather and climate. We plan to build on existing models through:

  1. Capturing weather and climate extremes, to evaluate the importance of potentially low-probability but high impact tick events. Our climate group are experts in extreme events.
  2. Incorporating integrated data using AI techniques, top enable us to capture mediating processes within the tick-to-infection chain. For instance, weather could affect a) ticks arriving to the UK, b) ticks surviving in the UK, c) tick host distributions, d) geographical locations of tick hosts at different stages of it’s life, e) human behaviour.