Risk of exposure to
Lyme disease is a function of the local abundance of nymphal Ixodes ticks that are infected with the etiological agent, the spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi. We monitored abundance of white-footed mice (the principal B. burgdorferi reservoir in the eastern and central United States) and acorns (a critical food resource for mice), and Ixodes scapularis ticks, as well as ambient temperature (cumulative growing degree days) and growing season precipitation, in a forested landscape of southeastern New York State from 1994 to 2000. We found that acorn production in autumn strongly influenced abundance of white-footed mice the following summer and that abundance of mice in summer, when larval ticks are active, influenced the abundance of infected nymphs the following year. Consequently, the abundance of infected nymphal ticks can be predicted from acorn production 1.75 years earlier. Monitoring of natural fluctuations in acorn production thus supports results of prior acorn addition experiments that were conducted at small spatial scales. Growing degree days and precipitation either had no significant effect on density of nymphs or marginally increased the explanatory power of models that included acorns or mouse density as independent variables. We conclude that, at our study site in New York, the risk of human exposure to
Lyme disease is affected by mouse density in the prior year and by acorn production 2 years previously.