Date of Submission

Spring 2011

Academic Program



Felicia Keesing

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Heavy metal pollution is increasing all over the world and adversely affecting human health directly and indirectly. Studies in Russia have shown a correlation between morphological abnormalities in ticks and exposure to heavy metal pollution, especially cadmium. These abnormalities manifest as irregular excavations or wrinkles on the exoskeleton of the tick. Researchers hypothesize that ticks accumulate the metal in their bodies, where it affects their morphology, immune systems, metabolism, and behavior. Abnormal ticks are more likely to be more intensely infected with Borrelia burgdorferi and other pathogens than normal ticks. Abnormal female ticks infected with B. burgdorferi quest longer and more actively than normal ticks. To determine if heavy metal pollution is similarly affecting ticks in the United States, I collected ticks from three urban sites in New York City and three rural sites in New York and Connecticut, tested their locomotor activity, and analyzed them for phenotypic abnormalities. I also tested the soils from each of the sites for the presence of cadmium, copper, lead, and zinc. Of the 197 female ticks I examined, I classified 6% as anomalous. There was a significant positive correlation between the cadmium soil concentration and the proportion of abnormal ticks per site. There was a marginally non-significant effect of cadmium soil concentration on the activity of ticks per site. There was no significant effect of abnormality on the locomotor activity of ticks. This is the first study in the United States to document the effects of heavy metal pollution on the morphology and behavior of blacklegged ticks.

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