Differential associations of horizontally and vertically transmitted symbionts on Ixodes ricinus behaviour and physiology

Julian W. Bakker*, Hannah L.M. Begemann, Manoj Fonville, Helen J. Esser, Willem F. de Boer, Hein Sprong, Constantianus J.M. Koenraadt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: Ixodes ricinus ticks are infected with a large diversity of vertically and horizontally transmitted symbionts. While horizontally transmitted symbionts rely on a vertebrate host for their transmission, vertically transmitted symbionts rely more on the survival of their invertebrate host for transmission. We therefore hypothesized horizontally transmitted symbionts to be associated with increased tick activity to increase host contact rate and vertically transmitted symbionts to be associated with higher tick weight and lipid fraction to promote tick survival. Methods: We used a behavioural assay to record the questing activity of I. ricinus ticks. In addition, we measured weight and lipid fraction and determined the presence of ten symbiont species in these ticks using qPCR, of which six were vertically transmitted and four horizontally transmitted. Results: Vertically transmitted symbionts (e.g. Midichloria mitochondrii) were associated with an increase in tick weight, whereas horizontally transmitted symbionts (e.g. Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato) were often associated with lower weight and lipid fraction of ticks. Moreover, horizontally transmitted symbionts (e.g. B. burgdorferi s.l.) were associated with increased tick activity, which may benefit pathogen transmission and increases tick-borne disease hazard. Conclusions: Our study shows that horizontally and vertically transmitted symbionts differentially influence the behaviour and physiology of I. ricinus and warrants future research to study the underlying mechanisms and effects on transmission dynamics of tick-borne pathogens. Graphical abstract: [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageEnglish
Article number443
JournalParasites and Vectors
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Borrelia burgdorferi
  • Horizontal transmission
  • Microbiome
  • Midichloria mitochondrii
  • Tick-borne pathogens
  • Ticks
  • Vertical transmission


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