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Researchers Get Help With Tick Problem From 'Citizen Scientists'

Jul 13, 2018 07:53 PM EDT
A couple of ecologists turned to citizen science in hopes of learning more about ticks and tick-borne diseases. Amazingly, the public showed up and provided valuable data from thousands of ticks.
(Photo : Pixabay)

Ticks are very common and transmit a host of potentially dangerous diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Despite all the damage they do to humans and animals, a lot of tick-related cases, however, go unrepresented in public and scientific record. In hopes of getting more accurate results from a greater area, a pair of ecologists enlists the help of citizen scientists in collecting data on tick-borne diseases.

Citizen Scientists Show Up For The Tick Study

The research published in the open-access journal PLOS One offers a realistic picture of tick exposure beyond just the usual reporting that happens when sick people seek medical health.

"Our study may be a new way of understanding exposure to tick-borne diseases," lead author Daniel Salkeld, a disease ecologist from CSU's Department of Biology, explains. "Normally the approach is to rely on reported disease cases, or to look at ticks in natural habitats. Our data represent that in-between, middle ground: It shows when people or animals got bitten, and where, and what they got exposed to."

Citizen scientists delivered well for the researchers, sending in data on 16,000 ticks from 49 states and Puerto Rico. The only state that was not represented is Alaska. Almost 90 percent of the reported ticks have been pulled from people or animals. There are 24 states, about 83 counties in total, had ticks that carried diseases.

Researchers Appreciate The Citizen Scientists

The results of the call for citizen scientists exceeded the expectations of the study authors. The initial goal was 2,000 ticks and most from San Francisco, California. They ended up with three times more than that from all across the United States.

Localized studies conducted by regular scientists typically collect a hundred or so ticks, but opening up the study to citizen citizens offer a much greater pool to the researchers.

"The overwhelming participation from residents throughout the country and the surprising number of counties impacted demonstrates that a great need exists throughout the country for this information," the other lead author Nathan Nieto of Northern Arizona University adds, explaining that the citizen scientists offer a unique perspective.

It's important to note that data collected from the public is usually more prone to human error and other limitations. For example, while the data will indicate where they reside and where the ticks were actually found. However, the research doesn't take into account the places they recently traveled to or visited.

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