Deer Ticks, The Hosts and Japanese Barberry

I’ve talked before about the connection between the cycles of deer tick populations (now correctly known as the black-legged tick) corresponding to rising and falling populations of some of their hosts.  I’ve talked about white footed mice being the primary vector–or host–of the tick.  And I’ve wondered about why no one studied the predator/prey relationship as having an effect on tick populations.  For my post about this in April, go here: http://wp.me/pOm4T-1dQ

But basically I’m just a backyard gardener with no scientific training.  So it’s nice to see some scientific studies coming out to back me up on these musings.  The studies are still not quite the ones I’d design if I were running them–but heck, I can’t have everything.

In this post from the New York Times, this is as close as I think I’ll get to having the perfect answer to my predator/prey questions about the entire ecosystem and ticks answered.  It actually goes a little further than I would have gone–but of course it doesn’t address my time-honored question: What happens in winters where there is no snow and predators have better access?  And it also doesn’t take into account that raptors can be predators.  I wonder why that is?

But I digress.  This study (by my favorite folks at the Cary Institute again!) took into account white footed mice, coyotes and foxes.  It looked at 4 states, and places where they coyote population was displacing the fox population.  The basic finding was that since coyotes have a much broader territory than foxes, the mice population would grow larger in those states, and thus the tick population would also be greater.  A denser fox population would mean fewer mice and a lesser tick population.

A very different study, by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, the invasive japanese barberry (berberis) was found to harbor both white footed mice and the stage of the ticks that transmit them (the link is to a whole publication by the Ag Station–the specific page is page 18 with the tick information–it’s midway through the article on barberry).

Because barberry is still sold in many states, homeowners in states with problematic populations of deer ticks may want to remove those plants from their years to avoid inviting these pesky creatures in–or sheltering them or their hosts.

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