As many of you may not know, I started at Oklahoma State University on January 17th. I am going to receive a masters of science in natural resource ecology and management.
Graduate school is little different as a science major. Most of us are not only required to complete classes, but also a research project on a topic of your choice (as long as you can get funding… good luck!). Then we write a thesis (basically a collecting of publishable scientific papers) telling what we did, why we did it, what our results were, and why those results are important. We must defend this thesis in front of a panel of peers and professors in order to graduate.
Well, what am I studying?
Basically, my research will try to answer a few simple questions…
1) What kind of ticks are found in the Oklahoma City metro area?
2) What diseases, if any, are these ticks carrying?
3) How did these ticks get here?
4) Once the ticks get here, what allows them to keep living, even in the middle of a city?
Easy enough right? Probably not. Science has a way of deceiving, frustrating, and fascinating me. What logically makes sense to you may not be the way Mother Nature operates.
Why should I care about this?
Ticks are vectors, which essentially means an organism that carries a disease to other organisms, of many diseases that can affect humans. Some common tick-borne diseases in the United States are Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. All of which have the potential to destroy vital organs and kill you. Just being blunt.
In the United States, more vector born disease are transmitted by ticks than any other organism.1
But I don’t live in Oklahoma, why should I care about this?
Do you live in an urban area? Chances are you do. As of 2014 over half the world’s population lives in an urban area. That number is only supposed to increase. 2
The abundance of ticks and the diseases they carry has increased in many urban areas in the United States. 3
Studying ticks in one city can lay down the groundwork, so to speak, for studying ticks in other cities. Yes, things are going to be different because every city is unique but at least there’s a place to start. So yes, you may not live in Oklahoma and this may not show exactly what will happen in your city, but hopefully it will help another scientist figure out what is.
What’s the big picture here?
More people are moving to urban areas, more ticks are moving into urban areas, ticks bring diseases, and you don’t want diseases. Or maybe you do?? I don’t know your life.
I am trying to figure out how the ticks get there and what conditions the ticks need to survive. If we figure this out, with proper management we can reduce the number of ticks (hopefully).
For example, if we find ticks are almost always found in areas with lots of leaf litter, we can remove the leaf litter and hopefully reduce your chances of encountering a tick and therefore a disease that tick might be carrying. YAY!
OK, I think I’m done for now.
Sorry for the long post, hopefully it’s not too confusing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
In the future I’ll probably give a little more information than just ticks 101. If you’re dying to know more right this instant, the CDC and NIH have some great resources on tick-borne disease.
In my future posts I’m thinking of telling you guys HOW I’m going to do this. I’m also trying to brainstorm a list of ways anyone can get involved in science… even with no science background! If you all have any other suggestions, please let me know!
Thanks for reading,
1 Division of Infectious Diseases
2 United Nations
3—here’s a bunch of papers stating this:
Salgo et al. 1988; Maupin et al. 1991; Marshall et al. 2003; Jobe et al. 2007; Bonnefoy et al. 2008; Rydzewski et al. 2012; Blanton et al. 2014