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Virtually unknown in North America three decades ago, Lyme disease is now the most common arthropod borne disease and its incidence and geographic range are steadily increasing, causing considerable morbidity. In areas where Lyme disease is endemic, there is also risk of exposure to two other tick-borne diseases, babesiosis and anaplasmosis. The emergence and rapid spread of Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis were previously thought to be a direct consequence of the rise in deer populations in reforested areas of the northeastern United States, but substantial research indicates that rather than deer, small mammal abundance has a strong influence on the density of infected nymphal ticks and is one of the most reliable predictors of entomological risk of exposure to Lyme disease. Further research has revealed that increases in Lyme disease in the northeastern and midwestern United States are reliably predicted by red fox rarity and coyote abundance. According to this entomological model, areas where foxes are present have a lower risk of Lyme disease due to their predation on small mammals. Foxes are key predators of small mammals, but are in widespread decline, likely due to the recent range expansion of coyotes. Such changes in predator communities have widespread cascading effects, including the emergence and spread of infectious diseases. The pattern between predator presence and disease risk has been observed on a fine scale during the summer in forest fragments in the Hudson Valley of New York, but had not yet been documented during the fall or winter. I investigated the relationship between predator community composition and tick-borne disease risk in forest fragments in Dutchess County during the late fall and winter. I found that fox, coyote, and bobcat presence were not reliable predictors of tick-borne disease risk during these seasons. These results suggest that due to seasonal variation in habitat use, interspecific toleration, and dispersal of young animals, predator presence in late fall and winter is not a reliable predictor of local tick-borne disease risk.
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List, Amy Eleanor, "Foxes, Coyotes, and Lyme Disease: Seasonal Variation in the Ecology of Predator Communities in Relation to Tick-borne Disease Risk" (2013). Senior Projects Spring 2013. 281.
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