Con­ser­va­tion in­creases dan­ger of lyme dis­ease

The Oban Times - - Outdoors - LOUISE GLEN lglen@oban­

A NEW study, pub­lished by the Royal So­ci­ety, has found some types of con­ser­va­tion ac­tion could in­crease the abun­dance of ticks, which trans­mit diseases such as lyme dis­ease.

The re­search, led by the Univer­sity of Glas­gow in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the James Hut­ton In­sti­tute and Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage, ex­am­ined how con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment ac­tiv­i­ties could af­fect tick pop­u­la­tions, wildlife host com­mu­ni­ties, the trans­mis­sion of the Bor­re­lia bac­te­ria that can cause lyme dis­ease and, ul­ti­mately, the risk of con­tract­ing it.

The study found that man­ag­ing the en­vi­ron­ment for con­ser­va­tion and bio­di­ver­sity has many pos­i­tive ef­fects, in­clud­ing ben­e­fits for hu­man health and well­be­ing from spend­ing time in na­ture.

How­ever, the re­searchers sug­gested that there should be con­sid­er­a­tion of dis­ease vec­tors such as ticks and mos­qui­toes in con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment de­ci­sions.

Lead au­thor Dr Caro­line Millins, from the Univer­sity of Glas­gow’s School of Vet­eri­nary Medicine and In­sti­tute of Bio­di­ver­sity, An­i­mal Health and Com­par­a­tive Medicine (BAHCM), said: ‘ We iden­ti­fied sev­eral widespread con­ser­va­tion man­age­ment prac­tices which could af­fect lyme dis­ease risk: the man­age­ment of deer pop­u­la­tions, wood­land re­gen­er­a­tion, ur­ban green­ing and con­trol of in­va­sive species.

‘We found that some man­age­ment ac­tiv­i­ties could lead to an in­creased risk of lyme dis­ease by in­creas­ing the habi­tat avail­able for wildlife hosts and the tick vec­tor. These ac­tiv­i­ties were wood­land re­gen­er­a­tion and bio­di­ver­sity poli­cies which in­crease the amount of for­est bor­der­ing open ar­eas as well as ur­ban green­ing.

‘How­ever, if deer pop­u­la­tions are man­aged along­side wood­land re­gen­er­a­tion projects, this can re­duce tick pop­u­la­tions and the risk of lyme dis­ease.’

Deer are of­ten key to main­tain­ing tick pop­u­la­tions, but do not be­come in­fected with the bac­te­ria.

Re­search by co-au­thor Pro­fes­sor Lucy Gil­bert of the James Hut­ton In­sti­tute’s Eco­log­i­cal Sci­ences group has fo­cused on the roles of deer man­age­ment, wood­land ex­pan­sion and other en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors in con­tribut­ing to tick pop­u­la­tions and lyme dis­ease risk.

Pro­fes­sor Gil­bert com­mented: ‘Our re­search so far demon­strates a clear re­la­tion­ship be­tween deer den­si­ties and tick abun­dance in Scot­land, and that deer man­age­ment can help re­duce ticks.

‘How­ever, deer do not trans­mit the lyme dis­ease bac­te­ria (Bor­re­lia), so cur­rent work at the Hut­ton In­sti­tute is test­ing for lyme dis­ease risk at a lot of sites with widely vary­ing deer den­si­ties to test the im­pact of deer den­si­ties on lyme dis­ease risk.’

Se­nior au­thor Dr Ro­man Biek, Univer­sity of Glas­gow’s BAHCM, added: ‘Widespread man­age­ment ac­tiv­i­ties can po­ten­tially teach us a lot about how changes to the en­vi­ron­ment can af­fect the chances of hu­mans com­ing into con­tact with ticks and with the pathogens ticks trans­mit.

‘We rec­om­mend that mon­i­tor­ing ticks and pathogens should ac­com­pany con­ser­va­tion mea­sures such as wood­land re­gen­er­a­tion and ur­ban green­ing projects.

‘This will al­low ap­pro­pri­ate guide­lines and mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies to be de­vel­oped, while also help­ing us to bet­ter un­der­stand the pro­cesses lead­ing to higher lyme dis­ease risk.’

Ticks are in­creas­ing in num­ber as a re­sult of some types of con­ser­va­tion.

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