Tick abundance and diversity are substantially lower in thinned vs. unthinned forests in the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve, USA

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Forest thinning is a management tool used in the New Jersey Pinelands and elsewhere to improve forest health and resilience, mitigate wildfire risk, and manage for wildlife. Forest thinning leads to warmer drier microcli-mates, which have been shown in both field and laboratory studies to reduce tick survival and reproduction. To directly assess the effects of forest thinning on the abundance and diversity of ticks and on the prevalence of tick -borne human pathogens, we sampled ticks weekly from March to November 2021 at three replicated pairs of thinned and unthinned forest sites composed primarily of pitch-pine, shortleaf pine, and various oak species. We characterized microclimate in the understory and forest floor at each sampling plot by deploying multiple data loggers to monitor temperature and relative humidity throughout the study period. As expected, we found that thinned plots were significantly drier and warmer than unthinned plots. We also found that average questing tick abundance was 92% lower in thinned as compared with unthinned plots. Of the three main tick species collected in unthinned plots (Amblyomma americanum, Ixodes scapularis, and Dermacentor albipictus) only A. americanum and a single I. scapularis were collected in thinned plots. Prevalence of Ehrlichia species in A. americanum did not differ between treatments, and the sole I. scapularis collected in a thinned plot was infected with Borrelia burg-dorferi sensu lato. However, the significant and much lower tick abundance in thinned plots indicates a lower risk of human-tick encounters. Our results add to the growing evidence that landscape and forest management can reduce local tick abundance, thereby reducing tick-borne disease risk.

Forest management, Vector, Amblyomma americanum, Ixodes scapularis, Lyme disease, Ehrlichia