FFAR Grant Aims to Halt Spread of Invasive Tick Species

“The three life stages of the Asian longhorned tick as collected in Tennessee, from left to right: adult female, nymph and larva. Photo by R. T. Trout Fryxell, courtesy UTIA.

WASHINGTON (November 14, 2019) – The invasive Asian longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis), a foreign parasite that can transmit a variety of blood-borne pathogens, is spreading rapidly in the US. While Asian longhorned ticks found in the US have yet to test positive for pathogens, their increasing prevalence threatens American farmers, livestock, companion animals and wildlife. In response to this threat, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a $150,000 Rapid Outcomes from Agriculture Research (ROAR) grant to the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) to map the tick’s spread and develop response strategies to protect farmers, ranchers and their animals.

As the name implies, the Asian longhorned tick is native to China, Japan, Korea and other parts of Asia. The tick arrived in the US in 2017 and was initially found in locations that did not have a clear connection to Asia; but experts are not clear on how the tick came to the US. As of this September, the parasite has been detected in twelve states, from Connecticut to Arkansas. The tick multiplies quickly thanks to asexual reproduction and is capable of rapid infestation of fields and host animals. One female can start a population, and to date, no males have been found in the US. The ticks feed in large population clusters, overwhelming their victims and surprised observers by extracting enough blood to cause anemia in grown livestock and death in young animals.

“The Asian longhorned tick landed in the US seemingly without explanation and has moved quickly though New England, the Mid-Atlantic and now the Southeast. Adding to our concern, not much is known about this parasite,” said Sally Rockey, FFAR executive director. “We have a rare opportunity to address this infestation now, before the Asian longhorned tick begins spreading pathogens. This grant is taking the first steps to curb the threat by mapping its spread and arming farmers with mitigation strategies.”

To address this threat, University of Tennessee researchers are collaborating with academic, government and industry stakeholders to develop a tick-surveillance network. Members of this network include Tennessee Departments of Agriculture and Health, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and United States Department of Agriculture (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Agricultural Research Service, Forest Service and Veterinary Services), as well as, local animal shelters, producers, livestock markets, and Extension agents. The researchers are also enhancing awareness, evaluating control methods and identifying predictors associated with its presence. The researchers are developing prevention, detection and response strategies, as well as educational materials to help detect and eliminate the Asian longhorned tick. This project is enhancing awareness about this pest and empowering stakeholders to make informed pest management decisions.

“Funding from FFAR, along with technical and resource support from our partners, has helped us detect this invasive tick species in eight Tennessee counties,” said Dr. Rebecca Trout Fryxell, a medical and veterinary entomologist in the UTIA Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology and research lead for this project. “We are finding them on both canines and cattle. By working with local producers, we are learning more about the life cycle of this species, and specifically when and where it is found on a farm. To address this threat, we have been busy increasing awareness. We are excited to start identifying solutions in the spring, when nymph populations are expected to be most problematic.”

This year-long research effort is funded through FFAR’s ROAR program, which rapidly funds research and outreach in response to emerging or unanticipated threats to the nation’s food supply or agricultural systems. University of Tennessee contributed $150,000 to this $300,000 effort, matching FFAR’s contribution to this important research.

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Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization originally established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today's food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

The University of Tennessee Institute of AgricultureThrough its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. ag.tennessee.edu.