|Story & photos by Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff
Researchers are helping Fort McCoy learn more about the prevalence of
Lyme disease on the installation while collecting valuable data in a
regional effort to better understand the ecological factors associated
with Lyme disease in the eastern United States.
Clockwise from bottom left: Lydia
Kramer, an undergraduate student at Michigan State University;
Marty Williamson, a volunteer from UW-River Falls; and Isis
Kuczaj, a graduate student from Michigan State University, check
for ticks on mice/voles at a North Post site.
Isis Kuczaj, a Michigan State University graduate student, is leading
a three-member research team at Fort McCoy. Michigan State University is
part of a six-university team conducting research at three sites at Fort
McCoy and at seven locations in the eastern region of the U.S.
In addition to Fort McCoy, two other military facilities are
participating in the research — Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., and
Savannah River Site, S.C.
“Areas in the East Coast, Great Lakes and Midwest Regions are a hotbed
of Lyme disease cases, however, few cases are reported in the southern
U.S.,” Kuczaj said. “Our studies are taking a look at the ecological
drivers of Lyme disease in the northern and southern regions of the
United States to answer questions about the variation in Lyme disease
risk in these areas.”
Crew members collect tick samples from vegetation and wildlife at Fort
McCoy, Kuczaj said. Vegetation is sampled by dragging a white cloth over
the vegetation to collect ticks about every 15 meters.
Kuczaj said small mammals are trapped and specimens collected before the
mammals are tagged and then released back into the wild.
Isis Kuczaj, a graduate student
from Michigan State University, checks for ticks on a small
mammal at a North-Post site.
Ticks pick up the Lyme disease bacteria from many types of animal
hosts, mainly small mammals, which include mice, shrews, voles or other
Deer do not carry the Lyme disease bacteria, but are important for adult
tick reproduction and can transport ticks carrying the bacteria between
two or more locations, she said.
The sampling is done at about three-week intervals, with laboratory work
being conducted between field collections, Kuczaj said.
“We treat the small mammals very kindly,” Kuczaj said. “They are fed,
have the intrusive ticks removed and are cleaned and then released in
the same spots they were captured, no worse for the wear. Some of the
specimens will be trapped more than once over the course of a summer —
and perhaps even a second summer — for examination.”
This is the second summer the crew has conducted the research at Fort
McCoy, Kuczaj said.
Fieldwork will continue through next summer, after which samples and
data will continue to be analyzed through 2013.
The information is provided to the Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources and the Fort McCoy Natural Resources Branch (NRB), she said.
Marty Williamson, a volunteer
from UW-River Falls, releases a mouse/vole at the same location
it was trapped on North Post.
Many factors can affect the research. For example, Kuczaj said the
weather and breeding seasons can play a role in what species they
capture or the age of the specimens they capture.
The three-member crew at Fort McCoy also includes Lydia Kramer, an
undergraduate student from Michigan State University, and Marty
Williamson, a volunteer and University of Wisconsin-River Falls student.
Kramer and Williamson both are gaining research experience while
pursuing their undergraduate degrees.
David Beckmann, wildlife biologist for the Fort McCoy NRB, said the
installation supports the study because it contributes data for the
broader understanding of Lyme disease distribution and provides more
information about Lyme disease and other zoonotic diseases on the
“We know the Lyme disease and anaplasomsis risks are high at Fort
McCoy,” Beckmann said. “The big thing is to find out how prevalent they
are, and what the trends are.”
Because the study also includes vegetation structure, Beckmann said it
can help provide information about the relationships between the small
mammals and vegetation they use at Fort McCoy. This information can be
used to help the installation manage wildlife habitats and reduce the
Lyme disease risk.
“The best strategy is to avoid the ticks if at all possible,” Beckmann
said. “You should know what to do to protect yourself from ticks and
possible Lyme disease, what to do if you find one on your body, and the
symptoms of Lyme disease.”
Michigan State University developed an informational brochure that the
installation adapted for local use. Beckmann said it is available
through the Installation Safety Office (ISO), building 1678 or NRB in
For more information at Fort McCoy, call the ISO at 608-388-3403 or the
NRB at 608-388-3337 or 5374.