Plant ecologist Luke Flory, an associate professor with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences in Gainesville, is seen at a local facility where he researches invasive plants, in this 2013 file photo. UF/IFAS photo by Amy Stuart
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — To protect personnel on Southeastern military installations from tickborne diseases, a federal program has awarded a five-year, $2.45 million grant to a team of researchers with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and other institutions. The grant was provided by the federal Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, an initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The scientists will determine how tick populations are affected by invasive plants, fire and the availability of host animals in specific locations; this information will help the team assess tickborne disease risk under future climate conditions.
Portions of the project based at UF/IFAS will receive more than $700,000 in funding, said Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “This project requires an interdisciplinary approach to account for all of the relevant ecological factors that influence the risk of people being exposed to tickborne diseases,” Payne said. “An ideal team of subject-matter experts has come together here, and I’m proud that UF/IFAS is involved.”
Participating faculty represent UF/IFAS, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Boston University, Payne said. Field studies will take place on more than a dozen U.S. Department of Defense properties where the lone star tick is found, including sites in six states where the tick co-exists with an invasive plant known as cogongrass — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. Researchers will also assess Midwestern sites where the tick is present but the invasive plant is not.
The team will conduct three years of field work to assess tick populations, white-tailed deer populations, plant communities, plant invasions, and pathogen presence in ticks, said Jackie Burns, UF/IFAS dean for research and director of the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station. Two years of data analysis will follow, she said, with researchers using models to develop disease-exposure risk maps for future time frames and climate conditions, as well as early-warning systems and management guidelines. (more …)