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Effect of prescribed fire for tick control in California chaparral.

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Abstract

Prescribed fire was investigated as a method for controlling ixodid and argasid ticks in chaparral habitats in northern California. Two experimental and two adjacent control plots within a wildlife preserve were monitored for 1 yr postburn. Ticks were collected by flagging vegetation, by CO2-baited pitfall trap, and by live-trapping rodents. Twice as many rodents were caught at control sites compared with burn sites and no dusky-footed woodrats, Neotoma fuscipes Baird, were found in the treatment sites postburn. This species is known to be a reservoir of the agents of
Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi sensu stricto Johnson, Schmid, Hyde, Steigerwalt & Brenner, and human granulocytic anaplasmosis, Anaplasma phagocytophilum Dumler, Barbet, Bekker, Dasch, Palmer, Ray, Rikihisa, Rurangirwa. Six ixodid tick species were removed from rodents (Ixodes pacificus Cooley & Kohls, Ixodes jellisoni Cooley & Kohls, Ixodes spinipalpis Hadwen & Nuttall, Ixodes woodi Bishopp, Dermacentor occidentalis Marx, and Dermacentor parumapertus Neumann), two of which transmit bacterial zoonotic agents to people in the far-western United States. There was no decrease in number of ticks per animal trapped at either burn site compared with controls; in fact, the mean number of immature I. pacificus per rodent was significantly higher at one burn site than its control site. Soil refugia may protect ticks from fire-induced mortality; the argasid tick Ornithodoros coriaceus Koch, which lives in soil, was unaffected by the prescribed fire as were I. pacificus and D. occidentalis buried in packets 2.5 cm below ground. We conclude that although prescribed fires in chaparral habitats may diminish local rodent abundance, it does not decrease tick loads on rodents. Furthermore, burning chaparral does not result in a decreased abundance of adult ixodid ticks on vegetation and apparently does not affect argasid or ixodid ticks that are sheltered within soil refugia.

J Med Entomol. 2009 Sep;46(5):1138-45. Research Support, U.S. Gov’t, P.H.S.

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