Sam Wisely, PhD
University Foundation Research Professor
University Term Professor
Department of  Wildlife Ecology and Conservation

Project 3: Ecological and insecticide-resistance models of tick vectors in Florida
Aim 2: Distribution, prevalence, and risk of tick-borne pathogens

Dr. Sam Wisely is a professor in the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at University of Florida. Early in her career Dr. Wisely trained as a wildlife biologist and was interested in conservation genetics of endangered species. Her research allowed her to develop strong molecular skills and she witnessed the dangerous diseases that endangered species are at risk for. This work fueled her interest and passion in wildlife disease ecology. 

In the Southeastern Center for Vector Borne Diseases Dr. Wisely studies ticks and tick host interactions. The first few years of the project were focused on establishing strong surveillance methods for ticks and tick-borne pathogens. Dr. Wisely worked to collaborate with other researchers in southern Alabama to ensure that their research results would be comparable and they could have a better understanding of the larger system of ticks. More recently, their research focuses more on vertebrate hosts and how hosts contribute to vector-borne disease ecology. Human cases of tick-borne diseases occur in areas of Florida where they encountered very few ticks in the environment, which led them to believe that looking for ticks on wildlife may better measure risk in these areas. Her graduate student Carrie De Jesus looked through 12,000 herpetological specimens to find ticks on reptiles in the Florida Museum of Natural History. Using these data points from the collected specimens, they were able to work with Dr. Greg Glass and update a model that predicted the distribution of Ixodes scapularis the blacklegged tick (known vector of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease). The museum specimens aided in providing raw data in southern Florida, where ticks were predicted to be but few were collected. Now Carrie’s research is looking at different lizard species as potential reservoir hosts of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi).

Another center-based project was driven by several interns who were looking at the risk of human tick-borne disease exposure in different recreational spaces in Alachua County. Alachua County, Florida, has one of the largest amounts of publicly accessible green space in Florida which provides a great place for recreation but also for encountering ticks. They sampled areas that were considered peri-urban, peri-rural, and urban in and around Gainesville to see what ticks were in each habitat and what pathogens they were carrying. Keep a lookout on our website as the results on this study are to be published soon!

Dr. Wisely and her students regularly participate in extension and outreach for tick awareness and tick-borne disease education. They have attended multiple UF/IFAS Outdoor Recreation open houses, and made presentations to Florida Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists and multiple hunting clubs on how outdoor recreationalists can protect themselves from tick bites.  Stay tuned, Dr. Wisely’s team is producing a series of fact sheets on common tick-borne diseases in Florida and how to tell if you have one. 

In 2019, Dr. Wisely and Dr. Glass organized an MDPI Insects special issue titled “Tick Surveillance and Tick-borne Diseases.” The goal of this issue was to highlight the research in tick-borne disease surveillance across the five CDC Centers of Excellence in Vector-Borne diseases. To view this issue and read the research articles click here.

Here is a great video highlighting other research Dr. Wisely’s student Sarah Maestas has been doing: click here!

We will be interviewing Dr. Wisely’s student Carrie De Jesus in mid-June continue to follow our updates to read more details about her work and outreach!

Recent publications:

Dr. Wisely’s Department website