SEP 10, 2017 08:48 AM PDT

Climate change and wildlife loss don't bode well for the fight against ticks

A new study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B from University of California Santa Barbara researchers predicts a scary future in the world of tick-borne disease: due to climate change and a loss of wildlife, the team’s findings suggest that the abundance of ticks that carry certain fevers are likely to rise in the future.

But how do climate change and wildlife loss combine to affect ticks and the world of zoonotic diseases? Using a year-long, size-selective herbivore exclosure experiment at the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya, the scientists found that total tick abundance and abundance of infected ticks greatly increased when large animals were lost. And as far as climate change’s role: larger animals in tend to not survive well in dryer, low-productivity areas; conditions that climate change spurs.

Grevy's zebras at the Mpala Research Centre. Photo by Margaret Kinnaird

In order to analyze the abundance of ticks and two tick-borne pathogens, Coxiella burnetii and Rickettsia species, which cause Q fever and spotted fevers, the team designed four plot treatments. The first plot had only small rodent-sized herbivores (mostly mice); the second had intermediate-size animals (like hares and small antelope); the third had all types of animals except mega-herbivores such as giraffes and elephants. The fourth, control, plot did not have any animal restrictions.

From the experiment, the team discovered that at sites with a moderate amount of moisture, total wildlife exclusion increased total tick abundance by 130%; that compared with dry, low-productivity sites which saw a 225% increase.

"Our research suggests that large mammal conservation may prevent increases in tick abundance and tick-borne disease risk," said lead author, Georgia Titcomb. "These results are timely and relevant in light of widespread wildlife declines and unpredictable regional climatic shifts in a steadily warming world."

Large mammal conservation in Kenya and other parts of Africa is imperative to maintaining healthy ecosystems. Failure to prioritize such conservation could have serious consequences not only for wildlife but for humans as well.

"This [research] suggests that exposure risk will respond to wildlife loss and climate change in proportion to total tick abundance," said co-author Hillary Young. "We've shown these interacting effects increase disease risk, but they also highlight the need to incorporate ecological context when making predictions about the effects of wildlife loss on zoonotic disease dynamics."

Sources: Science DailyProceedings of the Royal Society B

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
DEC 20, 2018
Plants & Animals
DEC 20, 2018
The science Behind the Best Christmas Trees
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Houses and storefronts are all decorated with Christmas trees, sparkling lights and shiny ornaments. The Christmas tree is an iconic part of the h...
DEC 31, 2018
Earth & The Environment
DEC 31, 2018
The Low-down on the Green New Deal
What is the Green New Deal? This is a term that has been thrown around a lot in recent months, equally in the political sphere as in the environmental sphe...
JAN 04, 2019
Microbiology
JAN 04, 2019
Greenland Ice Sheet Found to Release Tons of Methane
Methane is a greenhouse gas considered to be 20-28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide....
JAN 15, 2019
Plants & Animals
JAN 15, 2019
Here's Why We Need to Protect Coral Reefs
Coral reefs do all sorts of great things for the environment. Not only do they act as underwater fortresses for smaller wildlife that require shelter from...
JAN 29, 2019
Earth & The Environment
JAN 29, 2019
The other side of the climate shift
New research published in Nature Climate Change explains how climate change is affecting long-established atmospheric and oceanic patterns. The study comes...
FEB 12, 2019
Earth & The Environment
FEB 12, 2019
Scientist swims Tennessee River and finds unprecedented plastic pollution
One researcher recently undertook an interesting strategy in order to analyze levels of microplastics in the Tennessee River: swimming. Dr. Andreas Fath, a...
Loading Comments...