Landscape Change and Tick-Borne Diseases
An Interdisciplinary Investigation

Project Summary

The sustainable management of healthy ecosystems may yield an important, previously under-recognized benefit in the form of buffering humans against exposure to emerging vector-borne diseases.  Studies from ecosystems across the world have shown that human alteration of natural landscapes can create hotspots for emerging zoonotic diseases through a complex pathway of ecological interactions of hosts and vectors, and that sustainable ecosystem management may be used as a way to reduce such effects.  Here, we utilize an interdisciplinary approach to examine the consequences of anthropogenic landscape change for the emergence of several bacterial pathogens transmitted by the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum) along with the dynamics of vertebrate hosts in the context of suburban development and land-use practices in the expanding Saint Louis, MO Metropolitan area.

Undergraduate participants Reed Otten and Genevieve Pang counting and removing ticks from CO2-baited traps at a suburban park.

Previous studies from this region indicate that human landscape changes associated with intermediate levels of forest cover, establishment of invasive plant species, and high Ticks are collected using carbon dioxide (CO2)-baited traps.  Traps consist of a lunch cooler attached to a plywood base.  A block of dry ice (frozen CO2) is placed inside each trap.  As the dry ice sublimates, it releases gaseous CO2 which attracts host seeking-ticks.  Double-sided carpet tape is placed on the plywood base, and ticks become ensnared in the tape. densities of tick hosts generate elevated human risk of exposure to tick-borne diseases.  We are exploring how patterns in human land-use and development influence the structure of ecosystems and their propensity to support ticks and tick-borne pathogens. 

 

Our objective is to explicitly quantify the effects of environmental changes on human health, and directly compare the level of exposure risk between healthy and human-modified landscapes.  We are using a combination of approaches to obtain these data, including field surveys of lone star ticks at over 50 study sites and laboratory analyses to determine the prevalence of pathogens in field-caught ticks. We are currently addressing these data in a Geographic

Ticks are collected using carbon dioxide (CO2)-baited traps.  Traps consist of a lunch cooler attached to a plywood base.  A block of dry ice (frozen CO2) is placed inside each trap.  As the dry ice sublimates, it releases gaseous CO2 which attracts host seeking-ticks.  Double-sided carpet tape is placed on the plywood base, and ticks become ensnared in the tape.

Information Systems framework to expressly quantify the impacts of specific landscape changes and to develop predictive models of the potential impacts of future landscape change on human health, thereby generating recommendations for sustainable land management in Midwestern ecosystems.  Our objective is to disseminate the results of our research as widely as possible within the impacted communities, particularly areas of high tick-borne disease risk.  These results will be broadly applicable throughout many areas of the United States undergoing extensive landscape change and increased human risk of exposure to tick-borne diseases.  Thus, our research will generate a greater understanding of the environmental drivers of disease emergence and help us develop recommendations by which land-use practices can be altered to maintain the important ecosystem service of infectious disease mitigation