On Tuesday, March 3, Carly Sponarski from the University of Maine’s Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology, presented a lecture at the George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability. Her lecture was titled “Tick Talk,” and she spoke about integrating the biological and social sciences with the research she does on addressing ticks and Lyme disease in the state of Maine.
In 2018, Sponarski joined a UMaine-based research team consisting of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students researching land management and practices surrounding the protection of Maine’s forest workers in relation to tick-borne diseases. The team was awarded $1.7 million from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the project that is scheduled to wrap up in 2021.
Sponarski focused the lecture on her work with the research team. The overall research project consists of three major components of integration: research, educational components and extensions.
“ [Although we are] only one year into the larger project, we have made advances,” Saponarski said.
The team works interpersonally with landowners in educating them on how people should properly manage their forests, which Sponarski described as imperative to understanding forest harvest practices.
Sponarski gave special recognition to her students working on the team. In particular, Stephanie Hurt, a Ph.D. candidate, has been focusing on this project’s research on the natural sciences. Hurt’s project goal focuses on ways to identify timber harvesting practices that facilitate or inhibit the transmission of tick-borne pathogens.
Sponarski also recognized Katie Perry, a master’s candidate who is also working on the research team, during her lecture. Perry brings with her the opportunity to integrate ideas from forest management into the social sciences discipline. Her research seeks to understand the social and cognitive factors that influence individuals’ decisions to engage in Lyme disease prevention and management strategies. Perry also assists the researchers with extensive fieldwork and has worked to collect data from Bradbury Mountain State Park, in southwestern Maine.
Sponarski commenced the lecture by explaining the physical traits of ticks, the way that ticks carry and transmit disease and the ways in which Lyme disease has a detrimental effect on the environment. She told the audience that, due to the types of environments in Maine, Mainers are at a higher risk for Lyme disease, and urged everyone to be on high alert when outside in long brush grass this upcoming summer.
Lyme disease cases in Maine are rapidly increasing, with the number of private landowners who have reported ticks that test positive for Lyme disease has increased throughout the state. Because of the density of Maine’s forests and the effects of climate change in Maine, the tick population has flourished throughout the state.
A large portion of Sponarski’s work is based around the education of private landowners in the tick regulation of their property.
“This is a growing issue,” Sponarski said.
Going forward with its research, the team plans to further investigate the number of Lyme-positive ticks in Maine, perform more fieldwork in different Maine regions and create experimental units.
To find out more about how you can contribute to Lyme disease research in Maine, visit extension.umaine.edu/ticks/.