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Small Mammal & Tick Habitat Preference: Predicting Lyme Disease Risk

Jennifer Garcia, Vassar College ‘13

Professor Dr. Lynn Christenson

Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the U.S (CDC, 2010).  As the number of Lyme disease cases increases annually, it is important to assess the factors contributing to its increase.  Blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) are the main vector of the spirochete bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, the etiological agent of Lyme disease.  White-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) are the most competent disease reservoir for the bacterium, and once infected are very likely to transmit the infection to feeding larvae (Brunner et al, 2008).  To address factors contributing to increased Lyme disease incidence, the behavior of the disease vector and reservoir must be better understood.  Our objectives were to investigate white-footed mice and blacklegged tick habitat preferences at the Vassar Ecological Preserve.  Sites of varying vegetation structures were selected for small mammal trapping and tick dragging.  Results indicate that white-footed mice and ticks on the Vassar Ecological Preserve were more likely to be found in the field and edge habitat.  Tick habitat preference was found to be more closely related to increased average mass of small mammals trapped in the vegetation structure, rather than average number of small mammals trapped.  Lyme disease risk on the farm was determined to be low, as a sample of twenty ticks were not found to be carriers of the spirocete bacterium.