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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Recreation reduces tick density through fine-scale risk effects on deer space-use

Mols, B.; Churchill, J. E.; Cromsigt, J. P. G. M.; Kuijper, D. P. J.; Smit, C.


Altered interactions between pathogens, their hosts and vectors have potential consequences for human disease risk. Notably, tick-borne pathogens, many of which are associated with growing deer abundance, show global increasing prevalence and pose increasing challenges for disease prevention. Human activities can largely affect the patterns of deer space-use and can therefore be potential management tools to alleviate human-wildlife conflicts. Here, we tested how deer space-use patterns are influenced by human recreational activities, and how this in turn affects the spatial distribution of the sheep tick (Ixodes ricinus), a relevant disease vector of zoonoses such as Lyme borrelioses. We compared deer dropping and questing tick density on transects near (20 m) and further away from(100 m) forest trails that were either frequently used (open for recreation) or infrequently used (closed for recreation, but used by park managers). In contrast to infrequently used trails, deer dropping density was 31% lower near (20 m) than further away from (100 m) frequently used trails. Similarly, ticks were 62% less abundant near (20 m) frequently used trails compared to further away from (100 m) these trails, while this decline in tick numbers was only 14% near infrequently used trails. The avoidance by deer of areas close to human-used trails was thus associated with a similar reduction in questing tick density near these trails. As tick abundance generally correlates to pathogen prevalence, the use of trails for recreation may reduce tick-borne disease risk for humans on and near these trails. Our study reveals an unexplored effect of human activities on ecosystems and how this knowledge could be potentially used to mitigate zoonotic disease risk.


Ixodes ricinus; Tick-borne pathogens; Human-induced fear; Cascading effects; Ecology of fear; Lyme disease

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2022, volume: 839, article number: 156222
Publisher: ELSEVIER

Authors' information

Mols, B.
University of Groningen
Churchill, J. E.
University of Groningen
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies
Nelson Mandela University
Kuijper, D. P. J.
Mammal Research Institute of the Polish Academy of Sciences
Smit, C.
University of Groningen

UKÄ Subject classification

Fish and Wildlife Management

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