News Center Maine speaks with Birkel, grad student about tick research

News Center Maine spoke with Sean Birkel, a research assistant professor at the University of Maine Climate Change Institute, and Michelle Volk, a graduate student at UMaine, about research they’re conducting on ticks. Climate change and the bacteria carried by ticks are helping extend the range of ticks to include environments in which they previously could not have survived, according to the report. Ticks can hibernate under leaves during the winter, and even when exposed to the elements, up to 40 percent can survive. Cases of Lyme disease have been reported in every Maine county, rising from 71 in 2000 to 1,310 in 2018, News Center Maine reported. “Where are the ticks heading? Where is their optimal range? It’s very important for predicting the distribution of disease,” said Volk, who is tracking tick migration in northern and Down East Maine and also will collect ticks from western Maine this summer to test them for diseases. Ticks are sensitive to temperature and humidity, and might move into colder climates as summer becomes hotter and longer. “We anticipate in the coming decade most of the state will become prime habitat for the deer tick,” Birkel said.