The Ecology of a Complex System
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By Richard S. Ostfeld, Ph.D 2012 could be a terrible year for Lyme disease. To understand why, we need to go back in time to the autumn of 2010. Over vast parts of the northeastern USA the oak trees that dominate many forests let loose with a bumper crop of acorns. Oaks are notorious for producing highly variable seed crops, from a trickle of one or two acorns per square meter in some years to several dozen per square meter in others. When protein- and lipid-rich acorns are superabundant, white-footed mice are able to cache large numbers and feast all winter, surviving well and breeding early and often. Consequently, their populations can reach peaks of up to 200 individuals per hectare the summer following a good acorn year. Legions of mice scampering around on the forest floor spell good news for blacklegged ticks, the vector responsible for transmitting Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections.
Posted on April 27, 2012
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