Effects of culling on badger Meles meles spatial organization: implications for the control of bovine tuberculosis.
The incidence of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in British cattle has risen markedly over the last two decades. Failure to control the disease in cattle has been linked to the persistence of a reservoir of infection in European badgers Meles meles, a nationally protected species. Although badger culling has formed a component of British TB control policy for many years, a recent large-scale randomized field experiment found that TB incidence in cattle was no lower in areas subject to localized badger culling than in nearby areas where no experimental culls occurred. Indeed, analyses indicated that cattle incidence was higher in culled areas. One hypothesis advanced to explain this pattern is that localized culling disrupted badgers' territorial behaviour, potentially increasing the rate of contact between cattle and infected badgers. This study evaluated this hypothesis by investigating badger activity and spatial organization in 13 study areas subjected to different levels of culling. Badger home ranges were mapped by feeding colour-marked baits at badger dens and measuring the geographical area in which colour-marked faeces were retrieved. Badger home ranges were consistently larger in culling areas. Moreover, in areas not subjected to culling, home range sizes increased with proximity to the culling area boundary. Patterns of overlap between home ranges were also influenced by culling. Synthesis and applications. This study demonstrates that culling badgers profoundly alters their spatial organization as well as their population density. These changes have the potential to influence contact rates between cattle and badgers, both where culls occur and on adjoining land. These results may help to explain why localized badger culling appears to have failed to control cattle TB, and should be taken into account in determining what role, if any, badger culling should play in future control strategies.