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Ticks often live in litter that falls to forest floors such as leaves and thrive in thick grass which protects them from drying out (a big danger for these flat beasts). Prescribed burning it seems like a reasonable tool to reduce both forest floor debris and grassland density, and thus reduce tick numbers. Which, we all agree, would be good.

A new paper released by the Northern Research Station of the U.S. Forest Service examines this idea:

Another approach that has the potential to be a cost-effective and widely applied but that remains largely overlooked is the use of prescribed fire to ecologically restore degraded landscapes that favor ticks and pathogen transmission. We examine the ecological role of fire and its effects on ticks within the eastern United States, especially examining the life cycles of forest-dwelling ticks, shifts in regional-scale fire use over the past century, and the concept that frequent fire may have helped moderate tick populations and pathogen transmission prior to the so-called fire-suppression era that has characterized the past century.

The conclusion, as is so often the case with legitimate research (not just twitter blather) examining the complexity of biological systems, is “it depends.” It depends on the species of tick involved, on the vegetation that exists, on the past history of fire suppression and other factors.

But it’s a legitimate possibility that hadn’t occurred to me – more deliberate burning might mean fewer ticks!

The research is here.

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