Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


College of Science and Mathematics



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

John A. Smallwood

Committee Member

Scott Kight

Committee Member

Kirsten J. Monsen-Collar


Birds are well-established in cycles of zoonotic diseases, generally as hosts of an infected arthropod vector such as a mosquito or tick. Since the 1980s, research in both the United States and Europe has focused on their role in the ecology of Lyme disease and its causative agent, Borrelia burgdorferi, since they are fed upon by larval and nymphal ticks and can transport them and their associated diseases geographically during migrations. Further, research has shown that a number of avian species exhibit reservoir competency for B. burgdorferi which demonstrates that birds are involved in the enzootic cycles of the disease and contribute to its maintenance in nature. I sought to determine if birds in New Jersey are actively carrying this bacterium in the wild by examining blood samples and ticks found attached to birds from three northern New Jersey counties for a broadly conserved chromosomal region of the Borrelia-specific flaB gene via real-time PCR. Despite tick infection rates in New Jersey ranging from 10.0% to 44.2%, depending on region, I found only two ticks attached to birds, and no Borrelia DNA in any of the samples. Sampling effort, a lack of spirochetes harbored in blood, and possible dilution effect are all reasonable explanations behind these results. Further research is needed to continue to assess the impact of birds on local Lyme disease ecology, and to aid in better prediction of the human disease risk posed by tick-borne zoonoses.

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