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Abstract

Advances in sequencing technologies have revealed the complex and diverse microbial communities present in ticks (Ixodida). As obligate blood-feeding arthropods, ticks are responsible for a number of infectious diseases that can affect humans, livestock, domestic animals and wildlife. While cases of human tick-borne diseases continue to increase in the northern hemisphere, there has been relatively little recognition of zoonotic tick-borne pathogens in Australia. Over the past 5 years, studies using high-throughput sequencing technologies have shown that Australian ticks harbour unique and diverse bacterial communities. In the present study, free-ranging wildlife (=203), representing ten mammal species, were sampled from urban and peri-urban areas in New South Wales (NSW), Queensland (QLD) and Western Australia (WA). Bacterial metabarcoding targeting the 16S rRNA locus was used to characterize the microbiomes of three sample types collected from wildlife: blood, ticks and tissue samples. Further sequence information was obtained for selected taxa of interest. Six tick species were identified from wildlife: , , , , and . Bacterial 16S rRNA metabarcoding was performed on 536 samples and 65 controls, generating over 100 million sequences. Alpha diversity was significantly different between the three sample types, with tissue samples displaying the highest alpha diversity (<0.001). was the most abundant taxon identified across all sample types (37.3 %). Beta diversity analysis and ordination revealed little overlap between the three sample types (<0.001). Taxa of interest included , , , , , , and . bacteria were detected in 17.7% (95/536) of samples and included , and species. In samples from NSW, ‘. Neoehrlichia australis’, ‘. Neoehrlichia arcana’, sp. and sp. were identified. A putative novel sp. was identified from WA and was identified from QLD. Nine rodent tissue samples were positive for a novel sp. that formed a phylogenetically distinct clade separate from the Lyme and relapsing fever groups. This novel clade included recently identified rodent-associated genotypes, which were described from Spain and North America. was identified in 12.9% (69/536) of samples. Over half of these positive samples were obtained from black rats (), and the dominant bacterial species identified were and . The results from the present study show the value of using unbiased high-throughput sequencing applied to samples collected from wildlife. In addition to understanding the sylvatic cycle of known vector-associated pathogens, surveillance work is important to ensure preparedness for potential zoonotic spillover events.

Funding
This study was supported by the:
  • Royal Zoological Society (Award Paddy Pallin Science Grant)
    • Principle Award Recipient: CaseyL. Taylor
  • Ecological Society of Australia (Award Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment)
    • Principle Award Recipient: SiobhonL. Egan
  • Australian Research Council (Award LP160100200)
    • Principle Award Recipient: PeterJ. Irwin
  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. This article was made open access via a Publish and Read agreement between the Microbiology Society and the corresponding author’s institution.
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2021-12-16
2022-01-27
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