More coyotes = fewer foxes = more mice = more ticks = more Lyme disease ... maybe
Posted by David Brooks | Monday, June 18, 2012
Is the explosion of Lyme disease in the Northeast and upper Midwest partly the result of coyotes re-entering our ecosystem? That's a possibility, says a study (here it is) which finds no obvious correlation between deer populations and the presence of Lyme disease, even though the main vector of the disease is the deer tick.
Rather, the study says, coyote population are what matters, apparently because coyotes displace foxes and other "small-mammal predators," which causes the population of white-footed mice to grow enormously. Deer ticks like mice even more than they like deer, so the tick population grows too, spreading Lyme-causing parasites as they go.
I learned about the study via this very good NY Times blog post.
It's no secret that mice population is a key to the increase in Lyme. I once a story about a UNH researcher trying to use satellite images of forest cover to spot places where mice will live and therefore Lyme will be prevalent. But the correlation with coyotes is new - and, as the Times piece notes, not entirely accepted. It's still in the hypothesis stage, I'd say.
I love hearing the coyotes howl at night, as they do a few times a month even in relatively well built-up Mont Vernon. I hate picking ticks off myself, as I do every time I go outside.
It never occurred to me that these two feelings are correlated. Isn't science fascinating?