Habitat Management

A parkHabitat management refers to rendering existing habitats unattractive, inhospitable, and/or inaccessible to ticks and/or their hosts. This can be accomplished using a variety of techniques. For blacklegged ticks, one of the simplest and most effective methods to reduce exposure to ticks is vegetation management. In residential landscapes, this may include frequent mowing, trimming back overhanging shrubs or tree branches, and removal of leaf litter, particularly at the lawn-forest interface and in high-use areas. Each of these techniques has the dual function of reducing cover and food resources for hosts, while creating dryer conditions that affect the survivability of ticks.

Another landscape modification technique involves the elimination or reduction of small mammal cover and nesting sites. The removal of woodpiles, brush piles, stumps and fallen trees, and other harborages will tend to keep rodent populations at a minimum. The use of deer-resistant ornamental vegetation, in combination with these other techniques, may discourage deer from entering residential properties and decrease browse damage. Use of dense groundcover plantings should be discouraged, since they provide ideal tick habitat and cover for rodent hosts. In addition to feeding birds, bird feeders also provide food for many of the small mammal hosts for immature ticks. Therefore, the use of bird feeders should be limited to winter months or placed over areas that are inhospitable to tick survival, such as lawns. Habitat management can include host exclusion. Studies have shown that installation of deer fencing dramatically reduced blacklegged tick abundance within the protected property. However, deer fencing is quite expensive, does not exclude small or medium-sized hosts, and tends to increase deer density on neighboring properties.

Public Areas

A picnic areaMany of the principals of habitat management can also be applied to recreational areas and parks. The removal of shrub layer vegetation and leaf litter from around campsites, fitness trails, and picnic areas can dramatically reduce potential exposure to ticks. Similarly, widening exercise or hiking trails and pruning overhanging vegetation will reduce human-tick encounters. Posting signs in high-risk areas that advise park visitors of potential risk and precautions to use when entering tick-infested areas may also reduce exposure. Controlled burns, used primarily as a forestry management tool, have been shown to suppress tick populations, if performed regularly. However, such practices may increase tick populations in the long-term by improving deer browse, as well as food resources and cover for small mammal hosts.