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Maine tick survey reports first findings, seeks citizen scientists

Knox County showed high numbers for disease-carrying ticks
Apr 23, 2021
Source: File

The Maine Forest Tick Survey at the University of Maine has issued its 2020 Citizen Science Results Report (umaine.edu/forestticksurvey/project-results/) for nine southern and coastal counties in the state and is seeking forest landowners to be part of its citizen science research program this summer.

To understand the growing risks of tick-borne diseases in Maine and investigate potential risk mitigation strategies, UMaine researchers developed the state’s first active tick surveillance program in partnership with volunteer landowners with up to 1,000 wooded acres in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Hancock, Knox, Kennebec, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Waldo and York counties. Land managers and citizen science landowners collect ticks on their wooded properties, which are then identified and tested for pathogens.

The researchers leading the multiyear, multidisciplinary project — research associate Elissa Ballman and faculty members Allison Gardner, Jessica Leahy and Carly Sponarski — also are studying the relationship between land management practices and tick-borne disease exposure risk to help better protect landowners, recreationists and forest workers in Maine.

According to the recently released 2020 Citizen Science Results Report, adult tick populations last year were robust in the early summer, but the nymph populations were greatly reduced compared to recent years. This was likely a result of the unusually hot, dry weather in mid-summer.

In 2020, the first year of the project, 116 volunteer citizen scientists in nine southern and coastal Maine counties collected more than 2,000 specimens, 1,643 of which were ticks. Researchers tested 445 of those ticks — blacklegged tick nymphs — for pathogens. The largest number of blacklegged tick nymphs were collected in Knox County, followed by Kennebec County.

Of those blacklegged tick nymphs, more than 25% were carrying Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease. All nine counties in the study had ticks positive for the pathogen, with the highest rates in Hancock and Cumberland counties.

Over 7% of the blacklegged tick nymphs were carrying Anaplasma phagocytophilum, the bacterium responsible for anaplasmosis. It was detected in ticks in six of the counties, with the highest prevalence in Knox County.

More than 5% of the blacklegged tick nymphs were carrying Babesia microti, the organism responsible for babesiosis. It was found in six counties, with the highest prevalence rates in Knox and Cumberland counties.

The 2020 Citizen Science Results Report also found that properties with timber harvests in the past 20 years had significantly fewer blacklegged ticks. In addition, properties with invasive plants had significantly more blacklegged ticks; that was especially true of land with Japanese barberry and bush honeysuckle, corroborating previous research findings.

This year’s Maine Forest Tick Survey in the nine counties hopes to expand with the recruitment of 150 new volunteer forest landowners in the nine southern and coastal Maine counties. The citizen scientists will collect ticks for identification and testing for associated pathogens and send them to the university for analysis. Online training and collection materials, including drag cloths and vials, will be provided for volunteers in June.

Sampling will begin in July, the month when blacklegged tick nymphs (the life stage responsible for most human infections) are active. Participating citizen scientists will be asked to sample for ticks on three days throughout the month for an hour each day and will receive the identification and pathogen test results of their tick samples, as well as reports about the findings of the entire project, during the winter.

More information about the Maine Forest Tick Survey, including how to volunteer, is available online at umaine.edu/forestticksurvey/ or by contacting Elissa Ballman, the citizen science coordinator, elissa.ballman@maine.edu. Follow project updates on Facebook and Twitter.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Crawford L Robinson | Apr 25, 2021 12:01

Not just Benner Hill Gerald. They are everywhere. I have to check my dog at least twice a day if we go anywhere near dead leaves or vegetation higher than a few inches. Everything from tiny black nymphs to larger dog ticks have been encountered thus far. Dog owners and hikers need to be aware and do checks often.



Posted by: Gerald A Weinand | Apr 24, 2021 17:47

On a recent hike up Benner Hill in Rockland, I pulled 48 ticks off me while on the trial, and another 12 when I got home. Benner Hill is notorious for ticks, but I've never seen it like this. You may want to wait until June before venturing up there.



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