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Monhegan is an isolated 237-ha island lying 16 km off the coast of Maine. Introduced to the island in 1955, white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus Zimmerman, reached a density of approximately 37/km2 by the mid-1990s. Black-legged ticks, Ixodes scapularis Say, first noticed in the late 1980s, flourished thereafter. Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus Berkenhout) on Monhegan are highly infected with Borrelia burgdorferi Johnson, Schmidt, Hyde, Steigerwalt, and Brenner, the agent of
Lyme disease. By 1996, 13% of year-round residents had contracted the
disease. The community’s subsequent decision to eliminate deer from the island provided a unique opportunity to monitor the abundance of vector ticks in response to the complete and permanent removal of the primary hosts of their reproductive stage. With the exception of humans and their dogs and cats, there are no other potential hosts for adult I. scapularis on Monhegan. From November 1996 to March 1999, all deer were removed from the island. Previous annual fall flagging of vegetation from 1990 to 1998 produced 6-17 adult ticks/h, of which 24-41% were infected with the
Lyme disease spirochete. During this same period, up to 18 larvae and 4 nymphs were removed per Norway rat live-trapped on the island each July. With the absence of deer in the fall of 1999, both the density of host-seeking adult ticks and infection prevalence rose substantially to 28/h and 75.0%, respectively. By the summer of 2003, however, no sub-adult ticks were found on rats, and that fall, only 0.67 adult ticks/h were flagged. Of the 68 adults collected from 2002 to 2003, 20 (29.4%) were infected. Over this same period, adult tick abundance on a deer-populated, reference island continued to gradually increase.