Improving Widescale Monitoring of Ectoparasite Presence in Northern Canadian Wildlife with the Aid of Citizen Science

Emily Chenery
Maud Henaff
Kristenn Magnusson
Jane Harms
Nicholas Mandrak
Péter Molnár
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Surveying ticks on wildlife hosts consistently over time and across space presents many challenges. In Yukon, Canada, the winter tick, Dermacentor albipictus, is a blood-feeding parasite that can cause significant losses of hair and blood in moose and other wildlife. The impacts of winter tick infestation in wildlife hosts in this northern region are not well documented. To enhance existing surveillance of winter ticks in Yukon, we implemented a three-year citizen science program, the Yukon Winter Tick Monitoring Project (YWTMP) to engage hunters in the collection of underrepresented moose and caribou samples. Social media, participation incentives, and hide-sampling kits distributed to hunters increased the combined number of annual moose and caribou hide submissions almost 100-fold, and the geographical range of samples by almost 500 km, compared with submission numbers in the previous seven years. Citizen science samples were also used to detect previously unknown infection localities on moose in southeastern Yukon that are spatially separate to known infestations found on elk and deer, helping to build a better picture of infection dynamics on different host animals. Engaging with key demographic groups using structured citizen science programs like the YWTMP can significantly expand sampling efforts in remote areas while maintaining systematic sampling methods to monitor parasites of wildlife health concern.