Increasing rates of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico underscore the importance of studying the ecology of the brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus, the vector in that region. This species is reported to comprise distinct tropical and temperate lineages that may differ in vectorial capacity for RMSF and are hypothesized to be limited in their geographical range by climatic conditions. In this study, lineage was determined for ticks from 9 locations in California, Arizona, and Mexico by DNA sequencing of 12S, 16S, and D-loop ribosomal RNA. As expected, sites in northern California and eastern Arizona had temperate-lineage ticks, and phylogenetic analysis revealed considerable genetic variability among these temperate-lineage ticks. However, tropical-lineage ticks extended north from Oaxaca, Mexico were well established along the entire border from San Diego, California to western Arizona, and were found as far north as Lytle Creek near Los Angeles, California (a site where both lineages were detected). Far less genetic variability in the tropical lineage despite the large geographical distances is supportive of a hypothesis of rapid northward expansion. Discovery of the tropical lineage north of the identified climatic limitations suggests that more work is needed to characterize this tick's ecology, vectorial capacity, expansion, possible evolution, and response to climate change.

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