BLOOMINGTON – As Indiana’s climate changes, ticks are expanding their geographic range, bringing a host of diseases with them. This expansion has coincided with a rise in reports of tick-borne illness among Hoosiers.
Understanding the factors that put people at risk of contracting a tick-borne disease is paramount to protecting public health. One unknown is how commonly ticks can be found in managed ecosystems, such as parks and residential neighborhoods. By investigating this line of inquiry, IU researchers hope to inform Hoosiers about the risk of tick exposure in commonly frequented green spaces.
To learn more about the presence of ticks in residential areas, researchers have sampled about 310 private residences in south and central Indiana. At each site, researchers collected data on the local environment, property owners’ knowledge about ticks, and the tick management strategies used by property owners.
Thus far, study findings show that the areas around people’s residences may be an underestimated source of tick exposure, particularly in rural areas. Additionally, the team identified factors that make a parent more likely to apply tick repellant on their child, such as tick and tick-borne disease knowledge, area of residence, and the parent has found a tick on themselves.
Using the iTree canopy tool, the researchers are measuring the proportion of vegetation at each sampling site to study correlations between vegetation and tick presence. Data collected from this work indicate that ticks are more likely to be found on properties with tree canopies than those with just grass. Other findings suggest that property owners who practice leaf litter removal are less likely to harbor ticks than those who do not.
The Path Forward
The research team continues to sample properties for ticks, with a focus on sites in the northern part of the state. The team also is visiting previously sampled areas to get a better understanding of how climate influences tick populations.
To help with this sampling effort, researchers are developing an application to classify ticks in Indiana. The application will help residents identify ticks and give them information on tick facts, tick control practices, and protective measures to avoid tick exposure, while also allowing users to submit specimen photos to a database managed by the research team. The database will help researchers determine the location and frequency of tick presence and will allow the team to identify new areas of interest.
Findings from these studies could augment current public health practices and better inform Hoosiers about tick presence and associated risks.
The project is conducting on-the-ground tick sampling and coupling it with vegetation software to better understand tick prevalence in residential areas and risk factors.
What data is being collected?
The research team is collecting data on tick presence, vegetation types, and home management practices.
What is the methodology?
For the tick sampling, researchers use a combination of tarp drags and CO2 traps on each property. They are also using the iTree canopy tool in those residential areas to look at vegetation proportions. Lastly, they conduct interviews with the property owners to determine what types of vegetation management they are doing on their properties and to see if they have contracted a tick-borne disease.
What variables are represented in the data?
Variables for the project include tick prevalence, the proportions of grass, understory and canopy, neighborhood wood index, and home control properties.
How is the data formatted?
The data will primarily be in CSV files. The team is also creating an app that will contain a dataset of images.
How will others be able to access the data?
The final data will be made public through an online repository.
Information: IU Environmental Resilience Institute