Dr. Allison Gardner stands at the podium to give her presentations on vector-borne illnesses on Monday, March 27, at UMF. Gardner stated that, because of the mild winter we may see an earlier arrival of ticks this season. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — The University of Maine Farmington hosted a seminar on Monday, March 27, on the Maine Forest Tick Survey, with guest lecturer Dr. Allison Gardner. Gardner spoke on vector-borne disease with an emphasis on Lyme disease and the impact of forestry on the tick population.

According to their press release, The Maine Forest Tick Survey is a cross-disciplinary research project that has the long-term goal of identifying forest management practices that inhibit tick-borne disease transmission, as well as finding compatible economic interests, conserving biodiversity and enhancing other ecosystem services with landowners.

“Vector-borne diseases currently comprise roughly 30% of emerging infectious diseases worldwide,” Gardner shared with the audience. “Globally, they’re responsible for over a billion cases per year and there’s really no sign that this problem is going to slow down over time. If anything, the vector-borne disease burden has become even more substantial.”

Gardner also shared data to support her observations, such as the number of reported cases per year between 1992 and 2017. In 1992, the number of reported cases of Lyme disease was sitting at roughly 9,908 cases, but by 2017 that number had more than quadrupled to 42,743 reported cases, with the highest concentration seen in the upper Midwest and northeastern part of the United States.

In Maine, only 16 cases were reported in 1992, which is when Lyme disease became a notifiable disease that required doctors to report to federal agencies. In 2017, that number has climbed to over 1,850 known cases, but Gardner also warned this number may be higher due to under-reporting.

Gardner also shared that Maine has the highest rate of new cases of Lyme disease per capita.


Gardner attributes this rise in vector-borne diseases to multiple factors, such as global trade and travel, climate change, an over reliance on conventional pesticides and the failure of several longstanding vector-borne disease management strategies.

“We really got a perfect storm, there are different factors that are contributing to the spread of [vector-borne disease],” Gardner said. “we’re seeing many of our long-standing control practices beginning to fall short.”

Along with her team of scientists, Gardner also received the help of citizen scientists in an active tick surveillance project, in which 261 private landowners participated between 2020 and 2021. All 261 private landowners were located in southern and coastal Maine and owned woodlots that were greater than ten acres.

They were charged with dragging for ticks on their own land and completing questionnaires about their forest management histories and decision-making. Gardner also solicited other private landowners with surveys to collect more data for this study. In the research, she found:

•  9% of these private landowners reported awareness of any forest management strategies aimed at reducing tick densities.

•  Of the strategies described to the participant, only 5.7% reported awareness of any single management strategies.


•  The most important motivating factor for any future changes in land management was reducing personal/familial risk of tick-borne disease exposure.

•  1% of these private landowners reported a previous tick-borne disease diagnosis.

•  Barriers to actions included concerns over time, cost and access to information.

Forest management strategies included timber harvesting, which affected not only the environment where ticks survive, but also local wildlife, which in turn impacted the growth of the tick population. From the study, Gardner and her team found that lower trees per acre due to recent timber harvesting reduced the density of tick populations, with untouched land showing a higher density of tick population.

When asked about the effect of snowpack and colder temperatures on tick populations, Gardner shared that milder winters will often see higher tick populations as early as February.

“They’re at your window to find a host is larger,” Gardner stated. “Ticks are surviving in lower densities when there’s less snow, but they have more opportunity to find a host.”

More of the results are to come as Gardner and her team continue to evaluate their results, but Gardner showcased some interesting results from the citizen scientists. Over 60% expressed concerns over Lyme disease on their property, but the same percentage also expressed they not change their habits and try to avoid those areas on their property.

“Even as people recognize that the risk is quite high, their willingness to modify their behavior is quite low,” Gardner lamented.

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