Research data has revealed that decreases in fox population correspond with increases in the occurrence of Lyme disease.
“Increases in Lyme disease in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States over the past three decades are frequently uncorrelated with deer abundance and instead coincide with a range-wide decline of a key small mammal predator, the red fox, likely due to expansion of coyote populations,” write University of California researchers in the June 18 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The belief has long been that large populations of deer—hosts to the disease-causing bacteria—cause increased incidents of Lyme disease, but mathematic models of data from five states show that loss of red foxes coincide with an increase in Lyme disease even with deer populations remaining steady.
They theorize that foxes, by eating small rodents—also hosts to the disease-carrying ticks—help to reduce the spread of the disease. When fox population declines, often due to increased coyote population, the research shows that small rodent population—disease hosts—increases.
The report of these findings may signal a new chapter in game management and greater protection of foxes!
For more details, see Amanda Alvarez’s article in The Republic.
Posted June 24, 2012