Host dispersal shapes the population structure of a tick-borne bacterial pathogen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Birds are hosts for several zoonotic pathogens. Because of their high mobility, especially of longdistance migrants, birds can disperse these pathogens, affecting their distribution and phylogeography. We focused on Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato, which includes the causative agents of Lyme borreliosis, as an example for tick-borne pathogens, to address the role of birds as propagation hosts of zoonotic agents at a large geographical scale. We collected ticks from passerine birds in 11 European countries. B. burgdorferi s.l. prevalence in Ixodes spp. was 37% and increased with latitude. The fieldfare Turdus pilaris and the blackbird T. merula carried ticks with the highest Borrelia prevalence (92 and 58%, respectively), whereas robin Erithacus rubecula ticks were the least infected (3.8%). Borrelia garinii was the most prevalent genospecies (61%), followed by B. valaisiana (24%), B. afzelii (9%), B. turdi (5%) and B. lusitaniae (0.5%). A novel Borrelia genospecies “Candidatus Borrelia aligera” was also detected. Multilocus sequence typing (MLST) analysis of B. garinii isolates together with the global collection of B. garinii genotypes obtained from the Borrelia MLST public database revealed that: (a) there was little overlap among genotypes from different continents, (b) there was no geographical structuring within Europe, and (c) there was no evident association pattern detectable among B. garinii genotypes from ticks feeding on birds, questing ticks or human isolates. These findings strengthen the hypothesis that the population structure and evolutionary biology of tick-borne pathogens are shaped by their host associations and the movement patterns of these hosts.


  • Ana Cláudia Norte
  • Gabriele Margos
  • Noémie S. Becker
  • Jaime Albino Ramos
  • Maria Sofia Núncio
  • Volker Fingerle
  • Pedro Miguel Araújo
  • Peter Adamík
  • Haralambos Alivizatos
  • Emilio Barba
  • Rafael Barrientos
  • Laure Cauchard
  • Tibor Csörgő
  • Anastasia Diakou
  • Niels J. Dingemanse
  • Blandine Doligez
  • Anna Dubiec
  • Tapio Eeva
  • Barbara Flaisz
  • Tomas Grim
  • Michaela Hau
  • Dieter Heylen
  • Sándor Hornok
  • Savas Kazantzidis
  • David Kováts
  • František Krause
  • Ivan Literak
  • Raivo Mänd
  • Lucia Mentesana
  • Jennifer Morinay
  • Marko Mutanen
  • Markéta Nováková
  • Juan José Sanz
  • Luís Pascoal da Silva
  • Hein Sprong
  • Ina Sabrina Tirri
  • János Török
  • Tomi Trilar
  • Zdeněk Tyller
  • Marcel E. Visser
  • Isabel Lopes de Carvalho
External organisations
  • University of Coimbra
  • National Institute of Health Dr. Ricardo Jorge
  • Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority (LGL)
  • Palacký University
  • Hellenic Bird Ringing Center
  • University of Valencia
  • Complutense University of Madrid
  • University of Aberdeen
  • Ócsa Bird Ringing Station
  • Eötvös Loránd University
  • Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
  • Claude Bernard University Lyon 1
  • Polish Academy of Sciences
  • University of Turku
  • University of Veterinary Medicine, Budapest
  • Max-Planck Institute for Ornithology
  • Princeton University
  • Hasselt University
  • Hellenic Agricultural Organization-Demeter
  • Hungarian Biodiversity Research Society
  • Czech Union for Nature Conservation
  • University of Veterinary and Pharmaceutical Sciences Brno
  • University of Tartu
  • Evolutionary Physiology Laboratory
  • Uppsala University
  • University of Oulu
  • Masaryk University
  • CSIC National Museum Of Natural Sciences (MNCN)
  • University of Porto
  • National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM)
  • Slovenian Museum of Natural History
  • Museum of the Moravian Wallachia Region
  • Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)
  • Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich
  • University of Helsinki
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Infectious Medicine
  • Zoology
  • Evolutionary Biology


  • birds, Borrelia garinii, host-parasite interactions, Lyme borreliosis, migration, ticks
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)485-501
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Feb 1
Publication categoryResearch