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Title: Toward an integrative molecular approach to wildlife disease: Wildlife Disease
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Conservation Biology
Page Range / eLocation ID:
798 to 807
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  1. Abstract

    Controlling persistent infectious disease in wildlife populations is an ongoing challenge for wildlife managers and conservationists worldwide, and chronic diseases in particular remain a pernicious problem.

    Here, we develop a dynamic pathogen transmission model capturing key features ofMycoplasma ovipneumoniaeinfection, a major cause of population declines in North American bighorn sheepOvis canadensis. We explore the effects of model assumptions and parameter values on disease dynamics, including density‐ versus frequency‐dependent transmission, the inclusion of a carrier class versus a longer infectious period, host survival rates, disease‐induced mortality and recovery rates and the epidemic growth rate. Along the way, we estimate the basic reproductive ratio,R0, forM. ovipneumoniaein bighorn sheep to fall between approximately 1.36 and 1.74.

    We apply the model to compare efficacies across a suite of management actions following an epidemic, including test‐and‐remove, depopulation‐and‐reintroduction, range expansion, herd augmentation and density reduction.

    Our results suggest that test‐and‐remove, depopulation‐and‐reintroduction and range expansion could help persistently infected bighorn sheep herds recovery following an epidemic. By contrast, augmentation could lead to worse outcomes than those expected in the absence of management. Other management actions that improve host survival or reduce disease‐induced mortality are also likely to improve population size and persistence of chronically infected herds.

    Synthesis and applications. Dynamic transmission models like the one employed here offer a structured, logical approach for exploring hypotheses, planning field experiments and designing adaptive management. We find that management strategies that removed infected animals or isolated them within a structured metapopulation were most successful at facilitating herd recovery from a low‐prevalence, chronic pathogen. Ideally, models like ours should operate iteratively with field experiments to triangulate on better approaches for managing wildlife diseases.

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  2. Demographic factors are fundamental in shaping infectious disease dynamics. Aspects of populations that create structure, like age and sex, can affect patterns of transmission, infection intensity and population outcomes. However, studies rarely link these processes from individual to population-scale effects. Moreover, the mechanisms underlying demographic differences in disease are frequently unclear. Here, we explore sex-biased infections for a multi-host fungal disease of bats, white-nose syndrome, and link disease-associated mortality between sexes, the distortion of sex ratios and the potential mechanisms underlying sex differences in infection. We collected data on host traits, infection intensity and survival of five bat species at 42 sites across seven years. We found females were more infected than males for all five species. Females also had lower apparent survival over winter and accounted for a smaller proportion of populations over time. Notably, female-biased infections were evident by early hibernation and likely driven by sex-based differences in autumn mating behaviour. Male bats were more active during autumn which likely reduced replication of the cool-growing fungus. Higher disease impacts in female bats may have cascading effects on bat populations beyond the hibernation season by limiting recruitment and increasing the risk of Allee effects. 
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  3. Disease monitoring in free-ranging wildlife is a challenge and often relies on passive surveillance. Alternatively, proactive surveillance that relies on the detection of specific antibodies could give more reliable and timely insight into disease presence and prevalence in a population, especially if the evidence of disease occurs below detection thresholds for passive surveillance. Primary binding assays, like the indirect ELISA for antibody detection in wildlife, are hampered by a lack of species-specific conjugates. In this study, we developed anti-kudu ( Tragelaphus strepsiceros ) and anti-impala ( Aepyceros melampus ) immunoglobulin-specific conjugates in chickens and compared them to the binding of commercially available protein-G and protein-AG conjugates, using an ELISA-based avidity index. The conjugates were evaluated for cross-reaction with sera from other wild herbivores to assess future use in ELISAs. The developed conjugates had a high avidity of >70% against kudu and impala sera. The commercial conjugates (protein-G and protein-AG) had significantly low relative avidity (<20%) against these species. Eighteen other wildlife species demonstrated cross-reactivity with a mean relative avidity of >50% with the impala and kudu conjugates and <40% with the commercial conjugates. These results demonstrate that species-specific conjugates are important tools for the development and validation of immunoassays in wildlife and for the surveillance of zoonotic agents along the livestock-wildlife-human interface. 
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