Feb. 25, 1998 If an acorn falls in the forest, will you contract Lyme disease?
Perhaps so, according to some surprising research funded by NSF's division of environmental biology, and performed by scientists at the Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.
Researchers Clive Jones, Richard Ostfeld and colleagues conducted a study in which forest plots at the institute were experimentally manipulated, first by removing white-footed mice and then by adding acorns.
Scientists found several interrelationships between acorn production, populations of white-footed mice, gypsy moth larvae and Lyme disease-carrying black-legged (formerly deer) ticks. In years of large acorn production - mast years - populations and survival rates of white-footed mice increase. In years of lower acorn production, mice populations decrease. The rise and fall in mice population impacts the cycles of gypsy moth production. And, in a complex process, acorn production affects the density of larval ticks.
"Mast events may be very useful in predicting the risk of Lyme disease and gypsy moth outbreaks," Jones said. "A remarkable amount of nature is interconnected, with unexpected players and interactions over time that have important implications for human health, and for how we understand, predict and manage the functioning of complex ecosystems."
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