Predators, Prey and Lyme Disease

From the NY Times, a great article on our recent PNAS paper showing a possibly important role of predators in the emergence of Lyme disease.  Be sure to read the comments section.  Taal does a brilliant job of answering a number of tough questions about the study.

Deer ticks are aptly named, in a sense; a Northeastern deer can carry over 1,000 of these ticks on its body. But as far as humans are concerned, the ticks might be more relevantly called mouse ticks. That’s because white-footed mice and other small mammals, not deer, are now known by scientists to be major carriers of Lyme disease.

Lyme disease is spreading in the Northeast and the Midwest, and according to the national Centers for Disease Control, the number of annual cases over the past decade has been increasing. However, no one is quite sure why. In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers tried to figure out what is driving the proliferation of Lyme disease in human populations by studying populations patterns in animals that interact with ticks. Their study suggests that large predators like coyotes and foxes that aren’t typically associated with Lyme disease transmission may have a big impact on the spread of the disease.

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