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Goal: Deliver Benefits to the Public Government-academic partnership for tick surveillance

FIA crew working in the field
FIA crews work in a variety of habitats with low vegetation and an abundance of ticks. (Forest Service photo by JT Vogt)

Introduction

Diagnosed cases of tick-borne diseases are increasing at an alarming rate. Surveillance is needed to understand tick distribution and seasonality, to detect invasive ticks such as Asian longhorned tick, and to understand disease risk and epidemiology. Southern Research Station and the University of Tennessee partnered in an unprecedented surveillance effort targeting southeastern ticks.

Summary

Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) crews travel far and wide, working throughout the U.S. in all habitats and land ownerships to collect tree and vegetation data on tens of thousands of permanent plots.

Recognizing a unique opportunity to use passive tick surveillance by field-going employees, SRS researchers entered into a collaborative effort with the University of Tennessee (UT) in 2014. UT provided FIA crews with vials for tick collection and 80% ethanol as a preservative from 2014-2017. Crew members true themselves for ticks after completing a plot and put all encountered ticks into the vials. UT identified all ticks by species and life stage and screened Amblyomma americanum – the lone star tick – for Ehrlichia bacteria. This bacteria causes ehrlichiosis, which can be fatal.

Nearly 1,200 ticks were identified, including lone star tick, American dog tick, blacklegged tick, and cayenne tick. During the course of the study, FIA crews encountered lone star ticks with Ehrlichia pathogens. Results from this study provided seasonal phenology and regional distribution of tick encounters in sampled areas of the Southeast. More importantly, results indicate that passive surveillance can be used to generate useful data for pathogen detection.

Principal Investigator
James T. Vogt, Project Leader / Supervisory Biological Scientist
RWU
4801 - Forest Inventory and Analysis
Strategic Program Area
Inventory and Monitoring
Publication
Collaborative-tick surveillance works: An academic and government partnership for tick surveillance in the southeastern United States (Acari: Ixodidae)
CompassLive Article
Government-Academic Partnership Gathers Tick Data
Research Partners
Bill Burkman (SRS FIA)
Douglas Haskell (SRS FIA)
External Partner
Rebecca Trout Fryxell (The University of Tennessee)