In this study, we measured the phenology of Ixodes ricinus ticks and their infection with Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (sl) simultaneously along an altitudinal gradient to assess the impact of climate on the phenology of ticks and on their infection with B. burgdorferi sl. From 1999 to 2001, free-living I. ricinus ticks were collected monthly by flagging vegetation at three different altitudes (620, 740, and 900 m above sea level) on the slope of a mountain in Chaumont (Neuchâtel, Switzerland). I. ricinus ticks were examined for the presence of B. burgdorferi sl by using direct fluorescent antibody assay and isolation of spirochetes. Borrelia species were characterized by polymerase chain reaction followed by restriction fragment-length polymorphism. Tick density and tick phenology varied with altitude. Although the peak tick density decreased and the onset of ticks was delayed with altitude, the phenology was much more stable among years at the highest altitudes than at the lowest. The prevalence of B. burgdorferi infection in nymphs and adults decreased with altitude. The prevalence of infection differed significantly among years, and it was significantly higher in adults (30%) than in nymphs (21%). B. burgdorferi infection in adults was positively related with adult density, but this was not observed for nymphs. Five B. burgdorferi sl genospecies were successfully isolated: B. garinii, B. burgdorferi sensu stricto, B. afzelii, B. valaisiana, and B. lusitaniae. Mixed infections were obtained from five of 140 infected ticks. The greatest diversity in Borrelia species was observed at the lowest altitude where all five Borrelia species were present, whereas at the two highest altitudes, B. lusitaniae was not observed.
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Vol. 41 • No. 2