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Biology
Completed Project

Lyme Disease and Outdoor Recreational Activity: Management Strategies to Reduce Risk

Lucy Brainerd, Vassar College ’16 and Prof. Lynn Christenson
The incidence of Lyme disease has increased sharply in recent years, most notably in the northeast United States. Here in the Hudson Valley, located in New York State, the black legged tick (Ixodes scapularis), commonly known as the deer tick, is the principle host of Lyme causing bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. To understand where people face the greatest risk of contracting the disease, this project evaluates the most likely places to encounter ticks. Based on tick collections sampled at Environmental Monitoring and Management Alliance (EMMA) sites, I examined the proportion of ticks that contained the B. burgdorferi spirochetes, and explored a possible correlation between tick abundance and vegetation density at each location. Each site appears to have similar vegetation density however it is possible that tick abundance could be connected to either vegetation richness or total canopy cover. My data indicate that the northernmost site, Huyck Preserve (most rural), had the highest abundances of ticks during the collections in Summer 2016 than did the southernmost sites, Tea Town and Pound Ridge (less rural). Additionally, the highest proportion of infected ticks was found at Huyck Preserve (28.57%). Correlations between vegetation and tick abundances could be used in land management plans with the goal of decreasing human/ tick encounters that could reduce the risk of Lyme disease.