Research

Research objectives in the PPE Lab primarily encompass the impact of acarids (ticks and mites) on human and animal health, ecological drivers of acarid abundance, acarid vector-borne disease, and the implications of parasitism on population management and conservation. This work includes collaborations with state and federal agencies, non-profit organizations, zoos, and universities. We welcome inquiries about acarid identification and opportunities for collaborative research. Our Ohio tick archive now contains over 22,000+ tick specimens. We built this biorepository is a collaborative resource so if you’re in need of Ohio tick specimens or DNA please contact ticks@osu.edu.

Ticks

Concern over tick-borne pathogens has intensified in recent years as the number of human and animal tick-borne disease cases have not only increased but expanded to new regions along with the geographic expansion of native or invasive ticks in the United States. Although most of Ohio’s 14+ tick species are associated with wildlife, several readily bite and transmit pathogens to humans and domestic animals including the recently established blacklegged or deer tick (Ixodes scapularis)The blacklegged tick is the primary vector for the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi which causes Lyme disease in humans, dogs, cats, and horses. In the few years since establishment, confirmed cases of Lyme disease among Ohioans have precipitously increased and cases among dogs have mirrored that trend (see figure for human data and dog data can be found here). With over 400,000 annual human cases estimated nationwide, Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in America.

Data from CDC NNDSS and ODH

Ohio also has American dog ticks (Dermacentor variabilis), lone star ticks (Amblyomma americanum), and Gulf Coast ticks (Amblyomma maculatum) which are responsible for transmitting several other pathogens of public health and veterinary concern. In May of 2020, our tick surveillance program produced the first report of Asian longhorned ticks (Haemaphysalis longicornis) in Ohio which are major pests of livestock. Learn more about the ALHT and how you can help with surveillance by reading our ALHT handout.

There is an urgent need to understand the distribution of ticks and the risk of tick-borne disease in Ohio. The PPE Lab is working to fill these gaps in basic knowledge alongside agency and non-academic partners and conducting hypothesis-driven studies to improve our understanding of the ecology and epidemiology of ticks and tick-borne pathogens. We are engaged in active surveillance of target areas through tick dragging and sampling of harvested wildlife, as well as statewide passive surveillance through the submission of ticks from wildlife, humans, and domestic animals.

We welcome you to submit a tick to our research database!

For more information on tick protection and prevention, please visit the ODH Tickborne Diseases in Ohio page. Two additional resources we recommend are the ODH Be Tick Smart brochure which includes information on symptoms and creating a tick-safe zone in your yard, and the site Spray Safe Play Safe for information on repellents and pesticides. For a list of effective repellents, including natural products, check out this handy “Find the Repellent That’s Right For You” tool created by the EPA.

Mites

Increasingly, evidence suggests that mites may be a comorbidity of wildlife mortality, facilitate pathogen invasion, and serve as vectors for pathogen transmission which represents a paradigm shift from the majority of mites being viewed as commensal or at worst, sub-lethal. The PPE Lab investigates how mite infestations spread through ecological communities and what affect this might have on the health of individual host populations using a combination of molecular and morphological methods as well as mathematical modeling and complementary mesocosm and field studies.

Nasal mites in southern sea otters (Dent et al 2019)

The PPE Lab has experience with a wide variety of mites but our flagship project is the study of nasopulmonary mite (family Halarachnidae) infestations among marine mammals. During her graduate research, Dr. Pesapane was part of a team that found that respiratory mites (Halarachne halichoeri) of southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) are highly pathogenic, shared among marine mammals, exacerbated by rehabilitative care, environmentally hardy, clustered geographically, and host to numerous marine mammal pathogens. Now the PPE Lab is building on these findings by researching pathways for respiratory mite transmission, drivers of heterogeneity in mite geographic distribution (such as community structure, landscape change, or environmental characteristics), and the development of mite diagnostic tools for the management of wild and captive marine mammal populations.

 

Wildlife and Ecosystem Health

The PPE Lab is an active member of the Ecosystem Health Unit within the College of Veterinary Medicine. Leveraging our expertise in field ecology and One Health, we’re contributing to investigations of ecosystem-scale health challenges such as SARS-CoV-2 through the project eSCOUT– Environmental Surveillance for COVID-19 in Ohio: Understanding Transmission. Read more about eSCOUT reporting the first white-tailed deer to be infected with SARS-CoV-2 worldwide.