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South Coast Researchers Find Tick-Borne Disease Risk Could Significantly Increase In Future

Photo by Emammal
Ticks are visible on the forehead of this bushbuck, a sub-Saharan antelope.

The risk of tick-borne disease could increase in the future. South Coast researchers are finding that wildlife loss and climate change can cause the number of ticks to rise dramatically.

UC Santa Barbara biologists conducted a study in Kenya and found that the experiment plot where they excluded the largest animals also experienced the largest increase in the number of ticks. Hillary Young, an associate professor in UCSB’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology, says that was exacerbated in warmer and drier climates.

“Both of these things are happening around the world.  We’re losing large wildlife and we’re warming and drying the climate," she said. "What we’re seeing is kind of this perfect storm of risk factors to increase tick-borne diseases a lot.  It’s actually more than the affect you would predict from both of them put together – more than additive. You get an interaction affect where it’s stronger than you would expect.”

The research suggests that large mammal conservation may prevent increases in tick abundance and tick-borne disease risk.