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The Maine Forest Tick Survey at the University of Maine has published its 2020 Citizen Science Results Report for nine southern and coastal counties in the state and is looking for forest landowners to join their Citizen Science research program this summer.

To understand the growing risks of tick-borne disease in Maine and explore potential risk mitigation strategies, UMaine researchers developed the state’s first active tick monitoring program in partnership with volunteer landowners with up to 1,000 acres of forest in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Hancock, Knox, Kennebec, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Waldo, and York Counties. Land managers and citizen science landowners collect ticks from their wooded properties, which are then identified and tested for pathogens.

The researchers who lead the multi-year, multidisciplinary project – research fellow Elissa Ballman and faculty members Allison Gardner, Jessica Leahy, and Carly Sponarski – are also studying the relationship between land management practices and the risk of exposure to tick disease in order to better serve landowners, recreational seekers, and forests protect workers in Maine.

According to the recently published Citizen Science Results Report 2020, adult tick populations were robust in early summer last year, but nymph populations were greatly reduced compared to previous years. This was likely due to the unusually hot and dry weather in midsummer.

In 2020, the first year of the project, 116 citizen scientist volunteers in nine southern and coastal Maine counties collected more than 2,000 specimens, including 1,643 ticks. Researchers tested 445 of these ticks – black-legged tick nymphs – for pathogens. The greatest numbers of black-legged tick nymphs were collected in Knox County, followed by Kennebec County.

Of these black-legged tick nymphs, more than 25% carried Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease. Ticks were positive for the pathogen in all nine counties in the study, with the highest rates in Hancock and Cumberland counties.

Over 7% of the black-legged tick nymphs carried Anaplasma phagocytophilum, the bacterium responsible for anaplasmosis. It was found in ticks in six of the counties, with the highest prevalence in Knox county.

More than 5% of the black-legged tick nymphs carried Babesia microti, the causative agent of babesiosis. It was found in six counties, with the highest prevalence rates in Knox and Cumberland counties.

The Citizen Science Results Report 2020 also found that plots with timber harvests had significantly fewer black-legged ticks in the past 20 years. In addition, traits with invasive plants had significantly more black-legged ticks; this was particularly true of land with Japanese barberry and honeysuckle, which earlier research confirmed.

This year’s Maine Forest Tick Survey in the Nine Counties hopes to grow with the recruitment of 150 new volunteer forest landowners in the nine southern and coastal counties of Maine. The Citizen Scientists collect ticks to identify and test for associated pathogens and send them to the university for analysis. Online training and collection materials, including towels and vials, will be made available for volunteers in June.

Sampling begins in July, the month when black-legged tick nymphs (the stage of life responsible for most human infections) are active. Participating citizen scientists are asked to take tick samples for one hour three days a month and receive the identification and pathogen test results of their tick samples as well as reports on the results of the entire winter project throughout the project.

More information about the Maine Forest Tick Survey, including volunteering, is available online or contact Elissa Ballman, the Citizen Science Coordinator, [email protected] Follow project updates on Facebook and Twitter.


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