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Chronic wasting disease alters the movement behavior and habitat use of mule deer during clinical stages of infection

May 21, 2024

Integrating host movement and pathogen data is a central issue in wildlife disease ecology that will allow for a better understanding of disease transmission. We examined how adult female mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) responded behaviorally to infection with chronic wasting disease (CWD). We compared movement and habitat use of CWD-infected deer (n = 18) to those that succumbed to starvation (and were CWD-negative by ELISA and IHC; n = 8) and others in which CWD was not detected (n = 111, including animals that survived the duration of the study) using GPS collar data from two distinct populations collared in central Wyoming, USA during 2018–2022. CWD and predation were the leading causes of mortality during our study (32/91 deaths attributed to CWD and 27/91 deaths attributed to predation). Deer infected with CWD moved slower and used lower elevation areas closer to rivers in the months preceding death compared with uninfected deer that did not succumb to starvation. Although CWD-infected deer and those that died of starvation moved at similar speeds during the final months of life, CWD-infected deer used areas closer to streams with less herbaceous biomass than starved deer. These behavioral differences may allow for the development of predictive models of disease status from movement data, which will be useful to supplement field and laboratory diagnostics or when mortalities cannot be quickly retrieved to assess cause-specific mortality. Furthermore, identifying individuals who are sick before predation events could help to assess the extent to which disease mortality is compensatory with predation. Finally, infected animals began to slow down around 4 months prior to death from CWD. Our approach for detecting the timing of infection-induced shifts in movement behavior may be useful in application to other disease systems to better understand the response of wildlife to infectious disease.

Publication Year 2024
Title Chronic wasting disease alters the movement behavior and habitat use of mule deer during clinical stages of infection
DOI 10.1002/ece3.11418
Authors Gabriel M. Barrile, Paul Cross, Cheynne Stewart, Jennifer L. Malmberg, Rhiannon P. Jakopak, Justin Binfet, Kevin Montieth, Brandon Werner, Jessica Jennings-Gaines, JA Merkle
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70254412
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center