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The Maine Forest Tick Survey at the University of Maine has published its 2020 Citizen Science Results Report for nine southern and coastal counties in the state and is looking for woodland owners to join their Citizen Science research program this summer.

To understand the growing risks of tick-borne diseases in Maine and explore possible risk reduction strategies, UMaine researchers worked with volunteer landowners with up to 1,000 acres of forest in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Hancock, Knox, Kennebec to develop the first active tick surveillance program of the state, counties Lincoln, Sagadahoc, Waldo, and York. Land managers and civic landowners collect ticks from their wooded properties, which are then identified and tested for pathogens.

The researchers who lead the multi-year, multidisciplinary project – research fellow Elissa Ballman and faculty members Allison Gardner, Jessica Leahy, and Carly Sponarski – are also studying the relationship between land management practices and tick-borne disease risk to better landowners, recreational athletes and forests protecting workers in Maine.

According to the recently published Citizen Science Results Report 2020, tick populations in adults were robust in early summer last year, but nymph populations were greatly reduced compared to previous years. This was likely due to the unusually hot, dry weather in midsummer.

In 2020, the project’s first year, 116 volunteer citizen scientists across nine counties in southern Maine and the coast of Maine collected more than 2,000 specimens, 1,643 of which were ticks. The researchers tested 445 of these ticks – black-legged tick nymphs – for pathogens. Most of the black-legged tick nymphs were collected in Knox County, followed by Kennebec County.

Of these black-legged tick nymphs, more than 25% carried 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.

Over 7% of the black-legged tick nymphs carried Anaplasma phagocytophilum, the bacterium responsible for anaplasmosis. It has been found in ticks in six of the highest prevalence counties in Knox County.

More than 5% of the black-legged tick nymphs carried Babesia microti, the organism responsible for babesiosis. It was found in six counties, with the highest prevalence rates in Knox and Cumberland counties.

The Citizen Science Results Report 2020 also found that properties with timber harvests had significantly fewer black-legged ticks in the past 20 years. In addition, traits with invasive plants had significantly more black-legged ticks; This was particularly true of land with Japanese barberry and honeysuckle, which earlier research confirmed.

This year’s Maine Forest Tick Survey in the Nine Counties hopes to expand with the recruitment of 150 new forest volunteer owners in the nine counties in the south and coast of Maine. The citizen scientists collect ticks to identify and test for associated pathogens and send them to the university for analysis. In June, online training and collection materials, including towels and vials, will be made available to volunteers.

Sampling begins in July, the month when black-legged tick nymphs (the stage of life responsible for most infections in humans) are active. Participating citizen scientists are asked to look for ticks for one hour a day, three days a month. You will receive the results of your tick samples for identification and pathogen testing, as well as reports on the results of the entire project during the winter.

For more information on the Maine Forest Tick Survey, including information on volunteering, please contact Elissa Ballman, Citizen Science Coordinator, Follow project updates on Facebook and Twitter.