TickSolve - why capture deer?

Roads, rivers, fences and the spatial configuration of habitat are key determinants of how animals percieve and move within their landscape.

In Work Package 1 of TickSolve, we aim to determine the impact that landscape structure has on the host density, habitat selection and behaviour of key tick hosts, such as deer. We hypothesize that tick densities and the transmission of Lyme Disease pathogens (Bbsl) are dependent on how landscape barriers affect the movement of these hosts.

Our project adds to existing knowledge about deer distributions by collecting individual-level data on movements of the primary tick reproductive host: deer. By deploying satellite GPS collars, we are quantifying how habitat selection by deer varies across landscape structure and deer densities. We expect that deer movement within and between habitats impacts the distribution of tick-borne pathogens and the hazard to humans. We are also examining how deer behave at fine scales across habitats in ways that may affect ticks.


TickSolve volunteers releasing a captured deer from a drive net prior to collaring.

TickSolve volunteers releasing a captured deer from a drive net prior to collaring. Photo: Tom Morrison

Released tagged Roe deer at the Gask Wood Site, Aberdeenshire

Released tagged Roe deer at the Gask Wood Site, Aberdeenshire. February 2023. Photo: Ian Francis

We have selected two mixed woodland-farmland landscapes where Lyme Disease has been detected at relatively high prevalence (New Forest area extending into S.Wiltshire, England and Aberdeenshire, Scotland). Each landscape encompasses a gradient of woodland patch sizes and connectivity and includes potential environmental barriers and human usage.

To determine how individual deer move and behaviour in relation to landscape structure and deer density, we are deploying GPS collars (GSM cellular) equipped with tri-axial accelerometers on ~15 adult deer (roe and fallow) per study landscape. Ultimately, our goal is to predict functional connectivity within landscapes to understand whether deer connectivity relates to tick density and Lyme Disease prevalence.

Deer are being captured with long nets and tracked for 12-18 months, under Home Office licence. We operate under strict welfare standards, that attempt to minimize stress to capture animals. To minimise stress, we only capture animals outside of the breeding period. Our deer capture team includes two qualified wildlife veterinarians who supervise all animal handling. Animals are monitored intensively after release to ensure their behaviour returns to normal. Collars also are equipped with remote drop-off mechanisms which allow us to non-invasively remove the collar.


Learn more about TickSolve deer capture