Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2015


Environmental Science


Dr. Van Buren


Lyme disease has spread rapidly throughout the United States since its original discovery in 1975. An increasing threat to public health, this common vector-borne disease is transferred to a human after receiving a bite from an infected blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis). Humans have contributed to the massive influx of tick populations and Lyme disease cases through the introduction of invasive flora and fauna, overhunting of apex predators, and altering areas of land for urbanization. Quantitative data from the CDC and USDA on Lyme disease cases and white-tailed deer populations in the United States demonstrates the impact of human disruption of delicate ecosystems. My research at the Fordham University Louis Calder Biological Field Station is used as a case study on the impact of the presence of invasive Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) on plant biodiversity, and blacklegged tick densities. Invasive flora lack natural predators and are therefore able to outcompete native plant species, while creating suitable habitat for ticks. The natural and social science disciplines used to address this issue include public health, environmental history, and conservation biology. Mitigation policy solutions for this major environmental and public health issue have been tried in various geographies throughout the Northeast with limited and varying degrees of effectiveness. These policies include land management and reduction of tick habitat, invasive plant control, increased hunting of white-tailed deer, and the use of biocontrol organisms such as parasitic wasps and fungi. Given the limitation of habitat-based solutions, effective adaptation policy solutions have been developed over many years and include increased public awareness and education on proper outdoor clothing, tick removal, insect repellants, and the need for a Lyme disease vaccine for humans.