Ticks are most often found in woodland, but new research from the Universities of Glasgow and Liverpool have shown the pests to thrive in the Western Isles.
Lyme disease an infection contracted from the bite of an infected tick, is growing in incidence in people in the UK and large parts of Europe and North America.
The research shows that some of the isles showed much higher rates of Lyme disease infection than the Scottish average.
On the islands where Lyme disease was more prevalent, researchers found that the open, treeless habitats had similar tick density as mainland forest sites.
Dr Roman Biek, from Glasgow University, believes that the milder climate could be allowing the ticks to survive.
Dr Biek said: “This is a striking finding and suggests that microclimatic conditions in these open habitats, possibly driven by the milder oceanic climate on the Western Isles, can be as conducive to tick survival as conditions in woodlands.
“Our study highlights the potential for Lyme disease to emerge in habitats with a suitable climate other than forests so we should be looking at non-forested habitats more broadly both in the UK and globally.”
NatureScot’s Outer Hebrides Operations Manager, Johanne Ferguson, said: “This important piece of research confirms what many in the Uist community have been reporting for some time – that infected ticks are being found much closer to home.”