Research by Friends of IPM graduate student winner helps Tennessee ranchers with tick scouting

Cattle owners in western Tennessee need to be vigilant for four species of cattle tick, while cattle owners in eastern Tennessee need to watch for only two species. Why? That’s what research done by a Masters student at the University of Tennessee aims to address.

Masters student David Theuret, who won one of this year’s Friends of Southern IPM graduate student awards, focused on ticks infesting cattle during his graduate program. To assist cattle producers with scouting, Theuret first sampled ticks in Tennessee to determine which species were present and what times of year producers would need to watch for them.

He collaborated with University of Tennessee Research and Education Centers, Extension agents, and livestock auctions to collect ticks from cattle from 2015 – 2016. He was interested in knowing the identity of the pest species, but also their seasonal and regional patterns.

“Knowing which tick species are pests, the areas they occur, and their seasonal patterns of activity are all crucial pieces of information needed to develop an Integrated Pest Management strategy to deal with them,” Theuret said.

His research revealed that four species of ticks are pests of beef cattle in the state: the Lone star tick, American dog tick, Gulf coast tick and Blacklegged tick. The Lone star tick was most commonly collected. Most species were present between March and June. After August, tick populations dropped dramatically.

To strengthen his study, Theuret began looking for geospatial patterns in tick species. He wanted to know if every producer in Tennessee needed to scout for every tick species, or if some species were present in some areas but not in others.

He observed that the Cumberland Mountains seemed to create a border that two species of ticks would not cross over. In eastern Tennessee, he only found the lone star tick and the American dog tick. He is now trying to determine what drives tick distribution. This will generate a more accurate description of areas where cattle are at risk of being exposed to specific tick species and the pathogens that these ticks can transmit.

In the meantime, he is disseminating his results at meetings and conferences. Last December he revealed his findings to extension agents during a meeting at the University of Tennessee Beef and Forage Center. He also presented his findings to producers at the 2017 Knox Area Advanced Master Beef Producer Course, urging the importance of searching the animal carefully for ticks during the times that ticks are present.

He is also examining the microbiome—or community of microorganisms—inside the tick to learn more about symbiotic microbes which may be targeted for control in the future.

“Most control methods for ticks are chemical, which are not sustainable in the long term,” he says. “Investigating the microbiome will lay down foundational research needed to determine if we can use it to control ticks without traditional chemical methods.”

Theuret’s time at the University of Tennessee is soon coming to end when he graduates with his Masters in August. His goal is to prepare as much information as possible for future researchers to build upon and develop sustainable control strategies to protect the Tennessee beef cattle industry from tick threats.

 

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