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Pheasants are competent reservoir hosts for the Lyme disease spirochaete, Borrelia burgdorferi s.l., and carry large, but highly over-dispersed, infestations of the vector ticks, Ixodes ricinus. The effects of experimental reduction of tick infestation levels on the survival and territorial behaviour of male pheasants were studied. Over three years in two woodlands in southern England, birds were marked individually and half were fitted with a slow-release acaricide, which substantially reduced their tick burdens from March to August. Acaricide treatment affected reproductive success but had no discernible impact on the survival rates of male pheasants. The degree of wattle inflation by males, an indicator of territorial status and a correlate of harem acquisition, was significantly greater among treated males. In each year, a significantly higher proportion of treated (overall 44%) than control (22%) males acquired harems. Males that acquired females ranged over small areas on field edges. By contrast, those with no females ranged more widely in woods and the adjoining fields, increasing their exposure to questing ticks. The relative contribution of such roving males to tick-borne pathogen transmission may thus increase.
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