|dc.description.abstract||Texas is a large state comprised of 10 ecological regions that provide diverse habitats to a variety of organisms. Stewardship programs throughout the state maintain healthy habitats for organisms to occupy; yet often these properties are difficult to access, which leads to unknown true organismal diversity, presence, and habitat associations, particularly in South Texas. Additionally, organisms such as small mammals are hosts for ticks and tick-borne pathogens (TBPs). Therefore, through the East Foundation’s stewardship program, I created a baseline biodiversity assessment of small mammals, ticks, and tick-borne pathogens in Jim Hogg, Kenedy, Starr, and Willacy counties. I utilized several capture techniques including Sherman live traps, Macabee traps, and mist netting across three field seasons. To investigate TBPs presence, ticks and rodent ear biopsies were screened for the pathogen genera Borrelia and Rickettsia using PCR and DNA sequencing.
I captured 398 terrestrial, fossorial, and volant small mammals representing 18 species. Of these small mammals, 367 were terrestrial small mammals that were inspected for ticks. A total of 306 rodent ear biopsies were screened for TBPs, of which all were negative for Borrelia and Rickettsia. All ticks were negative for Borrelia and Rickettsia. Additionally, surveys for Texas pocket gophers revealed associations between their burrow systems and herpetofauna. A total of 125 herpetofauna were observed utilizing Texas pocket gopher mounds across East Foundation properties. This baseline assessment of small mammals, ticks, and tick-borne pathogens will serve as a reference point for future research efforts.||