This summer I am conducting environmental research under the guidance of Professor Eric Olson at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management. The Heller School focuses on utilizing interdisciplinary research, with public engagement, to respond to an ever-changing society.
After several meetings with Professor Olson last semester, we created a project focusing on gathering baseline data of the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) nymph population within the town of Weston, Massachusetts. It is critical to collect this data now because Weston legalized deer hunting last July. One of the many justifications for this legislation was that by controlling the deer population, there should be a gradual decline in the tick population. Decreasing the tick population is important since this would reduce the instance of diseases like Lyme disease and Babesiosis.
In preparation for this research, Professor Olson and I traveled to the University of Rhode Island to meet with Dr. Thomas Mather, the Director of URI’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease and the TickEncounter Resource Center. Dr. Mather has been conducting tick based research and promoting tick-bite awareness for more than 20 years. His experience made him the ideal person to discuss our proposed research with. Beyond meeting with Professor Olson and me, Dr. Mather allowed us to be trained with the rest of his team. Under the guidance of Jason LaPorte, a research assistant at the TickEncounter Resource Center, Professor Olson and I were taught how to flag for ticks and how to keep the ticks that have been collected alive for later studies. This training has been invaluable and an incredible start to the summer.
Most people would think that field research would involve something like trekking through a tropical rainforest with huge backpacks of supplies. Or maybe, they think of a massive sailboat in the middle of the ocean with various pieces of large equipment for taking samples. I on the other hand, was shown that research could begin in a place as bizarre as a fabric store. Using these supplies, and the URI training, I was able to make the flags and vials for collecting ticks (see below).
Through this research, I hope to prepare myself for a career in environmental research. I have completed several other field research projects, though none have been quite as extensive as this research. Completing a project that spans multiple months will help me confirm that field research is a realistic career. Furthermore, I plan on applying my lab knowledge by processing the ticks for the diseases mentioned above. The prevalence of tick-borne illness is commonly debated; by testing the ticks collected (more than 200 have been collected in less then a week of field work), I will be able to make a more accurate estimation of the prevalence of diseases within Weston. By combining field and lab techniques, the research will be more comprehensive and thorough.
For more information on Weston’s Deer Management Program, please visit: bit.ly/14z1pAg
I hope everyone’s summer is off to a great start.
– Adam Krebs ’14