BDN interviews Elias for article on invasive Japanese barberry, ticks

The Bangor Daily News interviewed Susan Elias, a vector ecologist at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute and a research associate at the Lyme and Vector-Borne Disease Laboratory at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, for an article about how the invasive Japanese barberry bush helps ticks survive in Maine. Barberry, which was introduced to North America in the 19th century, creates a microclimate of higher humidity and lower temperatures suitable for ticks. It covers area from Nova Scotia to South Carolina to Montana, according to UMaine Cooperative Extension. “Barberry thickets actually make a pretty good habitat, not just for ticks but for some of their host species,” said Elias, referring to mice and other small animals. “There are places in southern Maine where barberry has completely taken over the understory of the forest,” Elias said. “Barberry forms a dark thicket, and very little can survive those shady conditions.” About a decade ago, the United States Centers for Disease Control awarded a grant to a research team Elias was part of, for studying habitats associated with deer ticks. The connection to barberry emerged from this research. Clearing barberry can reduce the abundance of ticks and the risk of Lyme disease, and it is recommended that the plant is cleared every five years. Cooperative Extension recommends mechanical removal in a bulletin included in the article. “Barberry is very hard to remove, but where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Elias said. Maine Public carried the BDN article.