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The Impact of Controlled Burning and Forest Thinning on the Recovery of Tick Populations Over Time

Presenter: Trevor Roper (Columbia University)

May 2, 2024 - The increasing abundance and range of tick populations and tick-borne pathogens pose a growing public health threat. This highlights the need for sustainable land management techniques near human settlements to control tick populations and reduce the risk of tick-borne diseases. Fire suppression in the northeastern United States has led to the dominance of shade-tolerant plant species, creating ideal conditions for ticks. Prescribed fire and thinning have been proposed to restore fire-adapted ecosystems and reduce tick populations by creating desiccating microenvironments. However, their impact on tick host species, especially white-tailed deer, which contribute to tick amplification and mobility, is poorly understood. This study in the New Jersey Pine Barrens aims to assess how prescribed fire, and thinning affect tick population recovery over time and deer visitation frequency after disturbance. Forest stands subjected to thinning or burning approximately one, two, and five years ago are compared with control forests undisturbed for over 25 years. A 10-meter radius plot was established in each stand for vegetation surveys, with monthly tick surveys on a 40-meter transect and deer visitation frequency monitored by game cameras. Environmental data loggers track micro-environmental conditions continuously. It is expected that thinning is associated with increased deer visitation and more rapid recovery of tick populations after disturbance relative to the burned forest. This study will inform land management practices to reduce the tick-borne disease burden in vulnerable communities while facilitating fire-adapted habitat restoration.


Trevor Roper Trevor Roper is pursuing a BA in Environmental Biology at Columbia University and is planning to graduate in May 2024. Before enrolling at Columbia University, he served eight years as a United States Marine, supporting operational units across various landscapes. His current research, inspired by the One Health concept, seeks to understand the impact of differences in regional ecology and land management practices on tick-borne diseases and populations.  Upon completing his undergraduate degree,  Trevor aims to matriculate to medical school, where, while studying medicine, he also hopes to remain involved in interdisciplinary research at the intersection of ecology, medicine, and public health.


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