Forest ecology shapes Lyme disease risk in the eastern US

phys.org | 7/9/2018 | Staff
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In the eastern US, risk of contracting Lyme disease is higher in fragmented forests with high rodent densities and low numbers of resident fox, opossum, and raccoons. These are among the findings from an analysis of 19 years of data on the ecology of tick-borne disease in a forested landscape, recently published in the journal Ecology.

Lyme disease is the most frequently reported vector-borne disease in the US. "Using nearly two decades of data on the forest food web, we were interested in untangling the ecological conditions that regulate the number of infected ticks in the landscape," explains Richard S. Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and one of the paper's lead authors.

Data - Dutchess - County - NY - Epicenter

Long-term data were collected in Dutchess County, NY, an epicenter for Lyme disease. Variables monitored at six forested field plots (2.2 hectares each) on the grounds of the Cary Institute included: small mammals, blacklegged ticks, tick-borne pathogens, deer, acorns, and climate. Predator communities and tick infection rates were also recorded at 126 sites throughout Dutchess County over two years.

Taal Levi of Oregon State University, also a lead author, notes, "Our goal was to identify ecological indicators that could be used to protect public health. By analyzing these long-term data holistically, we can tease out how changes in things like predator populations and food resources shift the community structure of the forest ecosystem, and ultimately the abundance of infected blacklegged ticks searching for a meal."

Ticks - Blood - Meal - Life - Stages

Blacklegged ticks take a single blood meal at each of their three life stages: larva, nymph, and adult. They are born free of the pathogens that cause Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. These are acquired when they take bloodmeals from infected mammals, with white-footed mice and eastern chipmunks being the most competent reservoirs of these tick-borne diseases.

Ostfeld explains, "It's not uncommon...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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