With winters in New England getting warmer, autumn lingering, and spring blooming earlier, areas like northern New Hampshire and western Maine see an unusual increase in winter ticks that endanger the moose population. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have found that the plague of this parasite, which attacks elks during the fall and eats during the winter, is the main cause of an unprecedented death toll of 70 percent in calves over a three-year period
] "The iconic moose is fast becoming a new flagship for climate change in parts of the Northeast," said Pete Pekins, professor of animal ecology. "Normally we would be concerned about a death rate of 50 percent, but at 70 percent we see a real problem in the elk population."
In the study, published in Canadian Journal of Zoology ]researchers are sketching the screening of 1
Most adult moose survived, but were still severely compromised. They were thin and anemic because they had lost so much blood. The ticks seem to damage the reproductive health, so there is less breeding.
The researchers say that winter ticks epidemics typically last for one to two years. But five of the last 10 years have shown a rare incidence of tick infestation that reflects the impact of climate change. They point out that these problems currently occur mainly in southern moose populations, but in the further course of climate change, they expect this problem to move further north.
"We're sitting on a powder keg," Pekins said. "The changing environmental conditions associated with climate change are increasing and are beneficial for winter ticks, especially for late winters that extend the autumnal search for ticks."
Autumn is considered the "questing" season for winter ticks. They climb on the vegetation and look for a host. Once they become attached, they go through three active stages of life (larvae, nymphs, and adults) by taking a blood meal and feeding on the same animal. The ticks eat and stay on a host during their subsequent moulting until spring, when adult females break off and fall to the ground. Their preferred hosts are moose and other mammals, including deer, elk, caribou, and occasionally horses and cattle. Winter ticks rarely bite and feed on humans.
University of New Hampshire . .