Profile of 2018 MCE-VBD Research Fellow Karina Burmeister

My summer as a Research Fellow at the Midwest Center of Excellence for Vector-Borne Disease was challenging, educational, and enjoyable. The work I performed consisted of tick-dragging, tick identification, and small mammal trapping. 

We dragged for ticks at the UW Arboretum and in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. We collected all three life stages of tick: larvae, nymph and adult. In the lab, we would identify them, typically seeing Ixodes scapularis (deer tick) or Dermacentor reticulatus (wood tick). We did this to determine tick density throughout Wisconsin and to test to see the bacteria’s the ticks were carrying.

I was also involved in small mammal trapping, which involved setting Shermann live traps overnight to trap mice and other small mammals. We would then take blood samples, ear punches (a small piece of skin from the ear), pull ticks off of them, and ear tag them. The goal of the PhD project was to study two lyme disease reservoirs, Peromyscus maniculatus (deer mouse) and Peromyscus leucopus (white-footed mouse). We were comparing disease prevalence, tick burdens, nest site preferences, distance traveled, and temporal activity. We also put radio collars on a representative population of both species to track their distances traveled.

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One moment from the fellowship that sticks out to me was on a recent fellow conference call when were able to speak with P.J. Liesch from the Insect Diagnostic Lab at UW. P.J. shared that he did not go into his career interested in public speaking and outreach. He encouraged the fellows to take any opportunity given and that we never know where it may lead. It was inspiring to hear from an expert in the field and about the steps he took to get to his current career. undefinedkarina1.jpg#asset:569

The bigger picture reinforced from this experience is that ecology, wildlife, and human health are very interconnected. The more we know about carriers of disease such as the white-footed mouse and the deer mouse, the more we can learn about human health and further take preventative measures against disease. Working for the Center has allowed me to see how vector-borne disease is being addressed first hand. MCE-VBD and my fellowship work looks at the bigger picture. Not only are we studying tick densities, but small mammals that carry ticks, the bacteria’s that the mammals have, and the bacteria’s that the ticks are carrying. I believe that coming at vector-borne disease from such a wide angle will truly improve public awareness and health.

This fellowship was impactful in aiding me in career studies. This was my favorite experience so far in my career field. It has taught me how passionate I am about being in the field, but also how valuable and necessary lab work and data analysis are. My plan is to apply to a graduate program to further study wildlife and vector-borne disease, to become a professor.

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