A healthy wildlife population is likely to slow the spread of diseases carried by ticks, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. Conducted by researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara in Kenya, this study found that tick populations rose by 130 percent to 225 percent in areas where large wildlife was excluded. Drier areas were more likely to experience an increased tick population. Ticks are responsible for the spread of several different types of pathogens like babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, though the most reported and well-known of these is Lyme disease.
This study showed that large mammal conservation can reduce the abundance of some ticks, including in this case the abundance of ticks infected with pathogens that negatively impact the health of both humans and wildlife in the region…Finding this ‘win-win-win’ scenario in which conservation benefits both human health and wildlife health can, we hope, really motivate further conservation and ultimately help protect landscapes and wildlife health.” – Dr. Hillary Young, Assistant Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Increased Chances of Lyme Disease and Others
This study also tested captured ticks for disease-causing bacteria. The increase in tick population didn’t lead to a higher prevalence of diseases, but a larger tick population offers opportunistic pathogens a larger number of hosts. That could be one explanation for the rise in tick-borne diagnoses. Lyme disease cases have doubled over the last 30 years, and the Center for Disease Control reports that those numbers are underreported.
All signs point to the increase in tick populations and the diagnosis of tick-borne diseases continuing for the foreseeable future. Ticks are more prevalent in drier areas and can survive all year in warmer weather. Researchers found that they are also more populous in areas with decreased wildlife. Which means our current state of affairs will likely lead to optimal conditions for ticks. Higher temperatures, less wildlife…more Lyme for us?
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- Study shows importance of wildlife in controlling ticks – Phys.org
- Lyme disease is vastly under-reported, CDC says – CBS News
- Climate Change Indicators: Lyme Disease – EPA