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Ecol Appl. 2012 Mar;22(2):658-67.

The effect of deer management on the abundance of Ixodes ricinus in Scotland.

Author information

  • 1James Hutton Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen AB15 8QH, United Kingdom. lucy.gilbert@hutton.ac.uk


The management of wildlife hosts for controlling parasites and disease has a history of mixed success. Deer can be important hosts for ticks, such as Ixodes ricinus, which is the primary vector of disease-causing zoonotic pathogens in Europe. Deer are generally managed by culling and fencing for forestry protection, habitat conservation, and commercial hunting, and in this study we test whether these deer management methods can be useful for controlling ticks, with implications for tick-borne pathogens. At different spatial scales and habitats we tested the hypotheses that tick abundance is reduced by (1) culling deer and (2) deer exclusion using fencing. We compared abundance indices of hosts and questing I. ricinus nymphs using a combination of small-scale fencing experiments on moorland, a large-scale natural experiment of fenced and unfenced pairs of forests, and cross-sectional surveys of forest and moorland areas with varying deer densities. As predicted, areas with fewer deer had fewer ticks, and fenced exclosures had dramatically fewer ticks in both large-scale forest and small-scale moorland plots. Fencing and reducing deer density were also associated with higher ground vegetation. The implications of these results on other hosts, pathogen prevalence, and disease risk are discussed. This study provides evidence of how traditional management methods of a keystone species can reduce a generalist parasite, with implications for disease risk mitigation.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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