ORONO — The Maine Forest Tick Survey at the University of Maine has issued its 2020 Citizen Science Results Report for nine southern and coastal counties in the state, and is seeking forest landowners to be part of its citizen science research program this summer.

To understand the growing risks of tick-borne diseases in Maine and investigate potential risk mitigation strategies, UMaine researchers developed the state’s first active tick surveillance program in partnership with volunteer landowners with up to 1,000 wooded acres in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Hancock, Knox, Kennebec, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Waldo and York counties. Land managers and citizen science landowners collect ticks on their wooded properties, which are then identified and tested for pathogens.

The researchers leading the multiyear, multidisciplinary project — research associate Elissa Ballman and faculty members Allison Gardner, Jessica Leahy and Carly Sponarski — also are studying the relationship between land management practices and tick-borne disease exposure risk to help better protect landowners, recreationists and forest workers in Maine.

According to the results report, adult tick populations last year were robust in the early summer, but the nymph populations were greatly reduced compared to recent years. This was likely a result of the unusually hot, dry weather in mid-summer.

In 2020, the first year of the project, 116 volunteer citizen scientists in nine southern and coastal Maine counties collected more than 2,000 specimens, 1,643 of which were ticks. Researchers tested 445 of those ticks, blacklegged tick nymphs, for pathogens. The largest number of blacklegged tick nymphs were collected in Knox County, followed by Kennebec County.

Of those nymphs, more than 25% were carrying Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease. All nine counties in the study had ticks positive for the pathogen, with the highest rates in Hancock and Cumberland counties.

More than 7% of the blacklegged tick nymphs were carrying Anaplasma phagocytophilum, the bacterium responsible for anaplasmosis. It was detected in ticks in six of the counties, with the highest prevalence in Knox County.

More than 5% of those nymphs were carrying Babesia microti, the organism responsible for babesiosis. It was found in six counties, with the highest prevalence rates in Knox and Cumberland counties.

The 2020 Citizen Science Results Report also found that properties with timber harvests in the past 20 years had significantly fewer blacklegged ticks. In addition, properties with invasive plants had significantly more blacklegged ticks; that was especially true of land with Japanese barberry and bush honeysuckle, corroborating previous research findings.

This year’s Maine Forest Tick Survey in the nine counties looks to expand with the recruitment of 150 new volunteer forest landowners in the nine southern and coastal Maine counties. The citizen scientists will collect ticks for identification and testing for associated pathogens, and send them to the university for analysis. Online training and collection materials, including drag cloths and vials, will be provided for volunteers in June.

Sampling will begin in July, the month when blacklegged tick nymphs (the life stage responsible for most human infections) are active. Participating citizen scientists will be asked to sample for ticks on three days throughout the month for an hour each day, and will receive the identification and pathogen test results of their tick samples, as well as reports about the findings of the entire project, during the winter.

More information about the tick survey, including how to volunteer, is available online at umaine.edu/forestticksurvey/ or by contacting Ballman, the citizen science coordinator, at [email protected]. Follow project updates on Facebook and Twitter.

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