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Biological Sciences


The gopher tortoise tick, Amblyomma tuberculatum, has a unique relationship with the gopher tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus, found in sandy habitats across the southeastern United States. We aimed to understand the overall bacterial community associated with A. tuberculatum while also focusing on spotted fever group Rickettsia. These tortoises in the Southern Mississippi region are a federally threatened species; therefore, we have carefully trapped the tortoises and removed the species-specific ticks attached to them. Genomic DNA was extracted from individual ticks and used to explore overall bacterial load using pyrosequencing of bacterial 16S rRNA on 454-sequencing platform. The spotted fever group of Rickettsia was explored by amplifying rickettsial outer membrane protein A (rompA) gene by nested PCR. Sequencing results revealed 330 bacterial operational taxonomic units (OTUs) after all the necessary curation of sequences. Four whole A. tuberculatum ticks showed Proteobacteria, Firmicutes, Actinobacteria and Bacteroidetes as the most dominant phyla with a total of 74 different bacterial genera detected. Together Rickettsiae and Francisella showed >85% abundance, thus dominating the bacterial community structure. Partial sequences obtained from ompA amplicons revealed the presence of an uncharacterized Rickettsia similar to the Rickettsial endosymbiont of A. tuberculatum. This is the first preliminary profile of a complete bacterial community from gopher tortoise ticks and warrants further investigation regarding the functional role of Rickettsial and Francisella-like endosymbionts in tick physiology.


This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in Ticks and Tick Borne Diseases following peer review. The version of record is available online at: 10.1016/j.ttbdis.2016.07.010.

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Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases





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