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Ecosystems Secretly Protect Against Lyme Disease

• September 26, 2011 • 3:10 PM

Lizards, it seems, are good at keeping ticks free of Lyme disease, which suggests that a ecosystem that benefits lizards (and other creatures) ultimately benefits humankind, ecologist Cherie Briggs explains in this podcast.

Every year, tens of thousand of people in the United States contract Lyme disease, a malady that can cause permanent damage to the brain, heart, and other organs in the worst cases. Lyme disease is most common in the Northeast, even though the bacteria that causes the disease and the ticks that spread it around are commonly found across much of the nation.

What keeps most people in the U.S. safe from Lyme disease? According to Dr. Cherie Briggs, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the answer is lizards.

In the podcast, Briggs discusses western fence lizards, which cleanse ticks of any trace of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. But changes are coming to the ecosystems of California, where the lizards are abundant. Briggs discusses what impacts these changes might have on the fate of these lizards and, consequently, on the spread of Lyme disease.

Click to hear podcast


Music used in this podcast includes Bring It On No Vox by Jamie Miller and David Matheson; and Madrugada a la Jim Evans by the Paloseco Brazz Orchestra.


Jai Ranganathan
Dr. Jai Ranganathan is a biologist and his research focuses on questions of species conservation. He can be reached at jai.ranganathan at

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