Too Hot For Nuts? Warm Winter Hurts Acorn Crop

So? So what. Who cares about acorns.

Um…squirrels…obviously. And the people at this website.

No really, who cares about acorns? I mean, let’s talk about the poor maple syrup harvest, early strawberries, or low water tables – these things are important, not acorns!

As it turns out, ecology doesn’t work that way. This acorn shortage might make you very sick, in maybe the least predictable way imaginable.

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Our hero possibly?

Have a look at this story from South Coast Today:

Open Season: Expect rise in Lyme disease this year
By MARC FOLCO
Open Season
April 08, 2012 – 12:00 AM
Experts say that this year will be an extremely bad year for Lyme disease in the Northeast but not because of an extreme jump in tick populations (which carry the disease) or the warm winter, but because of a low acorn crop this past fall and the resulting decrease in mouse populations, which feed on acorns. Warm winters can affect tick behavior as they become active a few degrees above freezing, but mild winters themselves don’t typically affect populations, unless it’s due to other circumstances associated with warmer temperatures.

Boom and bust years are typical for acorn production with boom years resulting in the forest floor being covered with them, and bust years with oak trees producing few acorns. This past fall was a bust year, and white-footed mice, which feed on the acorns, had an extremely low winter survival. Without their staple food source, many mice died off through the winter, causing a crash in their population.

The white-footed mouse is also the favorite and most common host of the black-legged tick, which transmits Lyme disease. The ticks need a meal of blood at three different stages — larvae, nymph and adult. So without their favorite restaurant (white footed mice), the ticks will be looking to dine elsewhere.

“This spring, there will be a lot of Borrelia burgdorferi-infected black-legged ticks in our forests looking for a blood meal. And instead of finding a white-footed mouse, they are going to find other mammals — like us,” Richard Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., told HealthDay News. Borrelia burgdorferi is the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. It doesn’t affect mice, but can cause Lyme disease in humans, which can cause chronic fatigue, joint pain and neurological problems if it goes untreated.

Ostfeld and other experts predict the surge will begin in May and last until July. A similar boom-bust cycle of acorn crops and mouse populations happened in 2006 and 2007 resulting in numbers of nymphal black-legged ticks reaching a 20-year high. Sportsmen and outdoors people are urged to use precautions, such as wearing insect repellent, long pants and long sleeves when venturing into the woods, and to check themselves carefully for ticks when they get home. The larval stage of the black legged tick is tiny and can go unnoticed if you’re not looking for it.

Lyme disease, in case you’re not up on your arthropod transmitted diseases, it is caused by a bacterial infection that can have serious systemic effects, including long term nerve and joint damage, if left untreated.

So make sure you know who your designated “tick-checking-buddy” is! The CDC has a handy instruction guide on how to do this.

Isn’t that amazing! A shortage of acorns is putting humans at risk! Now I’m just as guilty as everyone else for thinking it, but stories like this remind me that the world isn’t actually split into “human” and “nature” – it’s all nature.

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