Ticks do not occur in a vacuum, nor do human patients or populations, wildlife species or populations, migratory birds, or Lyme disease and it’s many known and potential vectors. Even plant biology, including invasive species and general plant distributions within ecosystems, influence tick and Lyme disease distribution and abundance dramatically, including tick and pathogen diversity. As do a number of additional ecological factors not currently widely/publicly accounted for by most of the institutions tracking Lyme disease. Disease ecology is typically beyond the scope of those advising treatment guidelines, although they are a significant and critical aspect of understanding this disease and it’s spread.
With this in mind, discussing Lyme disease based on arbitrary geographic boundaries is absurd and dangerous. Discussions lacking consideration of ecological, ecosystem-based, and disease-ecology-based principles are not discussions that will lead to an adequate understanding of tick and tick-born disease distributions.
There are a number of disciplines that need to be involved in pursuing a better understanding of Lyme disease in order to pursue better guidelines for diagnosis and care (ones that respect and acknowledge uncertainty and include avenues for addressing it or for safely mitigating for it in the short term).
There is a great deal of science demonstrating relationships to ecological factors, and great deal of science pointing to better questions we should be asking. There is too much to cover in any short article, or even in a series of articles. And these influences will not be adequately covered until much later in the planning and coalition building process. But these issues are critical to keep in sight as we convey to interested parties what issues need more attention in our regions.
Additionally, specialists will be contributing their skills to our efforts in the form of advisement, participation, and various contributions such as educational articles.
Anyone considering tick and disease distributions needs to consider known or potential relationships to the following:
- Migratory wildlife
- Migratory songbirds
- Large predators, ‘medium’ predators, and small prey
- Invasive species (plants and animals)
- Travel corridors, seasonal movements of ungulates
- Moose populations
- Fire regimes
- Climate change
- Tick species distributions and diversity
- Hard vs. soft bodies ticks as vectors
- Vector competence by species (not limited to ticks)
- Land management influences and altered landscapes
These factors are important everywhere, but in our region, where Lyme is claimed not to have reached yet, it is especially important to be able to point to and increase the body of science and peer reviewed literature that already demonstrates otherwise.
The failure to address these factors is (and should be seen as) a serious lack of due diligence among agencies and organizations arbitrarily depicting geographic distributions.