Date of Award

Spring 4-19-2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Geography

First Advisor

Mark. A Blumer

Second Advisor

Naomi W. Lazarus

Third Advisor

Qiushen Wu

Abstract

The United States is currently amid a public health crisis caused by the bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, that is responsible for Lyme disease. A deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, is the primary vector for these bacteria in the Eastern United States and its explosive population increase and range expansion in the past several decades is responsible for the rapid spread of the disease. Understanding the cause of this growth is dependent on the habitat characteristics that determine the deer tick’s abilities to survive, reproduce, and disperse into new areas and the changes that may have released it from historic limits. Fire suppression policy and its adverse ecological effects may be the primary cause and implementation of prescribed fire management may be the best solution for reducing tick densities, changing habitat characteristics to less suitable conditions, and stopping or reversing the tick’s geographic range expansion. This pilot study sampled from natural areas under prescribed fire management in Central Pennsylvania and found that populations of ticks may remain significantly lower several years after burning. Effects of the size of burns and the clustering of burn areas, as well as the relative importance of burning compared to other environmental characteristics is yet unclear. Many changes should be implemented in future iterations of this study to uncover patterns that may yet exist. This knowledge may be key to management of the Lyme crisis.

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