The Scarcity of This Year’s Acorn’s Means a Terrible Year For Lyme Disease

I was glad to have been forwarded this article from the NYT’s for a couple of reasons.

First reason being, it’s an intersesting story and connects to things that I would have never thought of: acorns and Lyme Disease. The second and more personal reason; I had Lyme Disease in high school. It’s a hard disease to deal with, especially at an age when you are just trying to find your place in this crazy world.

If this article stands correct, we have to be even more careful this year than before as to the signs of Lyme here in the northeast. – Tony

In Central Park, more than 1,000 trees in the red oak family were spangling the scenery with the colors of autumn.

But this year, they were failing to do something else they generally do in the harvest season: produce acorns.

“I remember going into areas and you’d get the crunch of acorns under your feet,” said Neil Calvanese, vice president for operations at the Central Park Conservancy. “And this year, you kind of have to search around for them.”

It is a phenomenon happening not only in New York but also throughout the Northeast. While last fall set a recorded high for acorn production, at roughly 250 pounds per tree, this year is seeing a recorded low, with a typical tree shedding less than half a pound of its seeds, said Mark Ashton, a forest ecologist at Yale University. On average, oaks produce about 25 to 30 pounds of acorns a year.

“Scarlet oak, black oak, true red oak,” Dr. Ashton said. “These are the ones that dominate our forest, and these are the ones that aren’t producing acorns this year.”

Coming on the heels of an acorn glut, the dearth this year will probably have a cascade of effects on the forest ecosystem, culling the populations of squirrels, field mice and ground-nesting birds. And because the now-overgrown field mouse population will crash, legions of ticks — some infected with Lyme disease — will be aggressively pursuing new hosts, like humans.

“We expect 2012 to be the worst year for Lyme disease risk ever,” said Richard S. Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y. “We are already planning educational materials.”

It will probably turn into a big year for animals’ being killed on highways as well. Deer, in search of alternative sources of food, will leave the cover of the oak trees and wander out closer to roads.

“I would expect that traffic collisions are going to be higher in a year like this year,” Dr. Ostfeld said.

While scientists do not fully understand why this year has produced the lowest acorn crop in 20 years of monitoring, there is nothing unusual about large fluctuations in the annual number of acorns. Fingers are not being pointed at global warming.

Oak trees “produce huge, abundant amounts one year and not in other years,” Dr. Ashton said. “I don’t think it’s bad — the whole system fluctuates like this.”

For the full story see the NYT’s.


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