Effects of conservation management of landscapes and vertebrate communities on Lyme borreliosis risk in the United Kingdom

Caroline Millins, Lucy Gilbert, Jolyon Medlock, Kayleigh Hansford, Des BA Thompson, Roman Biek

Landscape change and altered host abundance are major drivers of zoonotic pathogen emergence. Conservation and biodiversity management of landscapes and vertebrate communities can have secondary effects on vector-borne pathogen transmission that are important to assess. Here we review the potential implications of these activities on the risk of Lyme borreliosis in the United Kingdom. Conservation management activities include woodland expansion, management and restoration, deer management, urban greening and the release and culling of non-native species. Available evidence suggests that increasing woodland extent, implementing biodiversity policies that encourage ecotonal habitat and urban greening can increase the risk of Lyme borreliosis by increasing suitable habitat for hosts and the tick vectors. However, this can depend on whether deer population management is carried out as part of these conservation activities. Exclusion fencing or culling deer to low densities can decrease tick abundance and Lyme borreliosis risk. As management actions often constitute large-scale perturbation experiments, these hold great potential to understand underlying drivers of tick and pathogen dynamics. We recommend integrating monitoring of ticks and the risk of tick-borne pathogens with conservation management activities. This would help fill knowledge gaps and the production of best practice guidelines to reduce risks.

This article is part of the themed issue ‘Conservation, biodiversity and infectious disease: scientific evidence and policy implications’.

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