Influence of genetic relatedness and spatial proximity on chronic wasting disease infection among female white-tailed deer.

Published online
26 May 2010
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Grear, D. A. & Samuel, M. D. & Scribner, K. T. & Weckworth, B. V. & Langenberg, J. A.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
USA & Wisconsin


Social organization and interactions among individuals are suspected to play important roles in the transmission and potential management of wildlife diseases. However, few studies have been conducted to evaluate sociality in wildlife disease transmission. We evaluated the hypothesis of socially facilitated transmission of chronic wasting disease (CWD) among adult female white-tailed deer using spatial location and genetic relatedness for 1387 female deer, and spatial locations of 1321 adult male deer harvested during 2002-2004 CWD control efforts in Wisconsin, USA. Genetically related female deer were significantly clustered at distances of <3.2 km. However, spatial autocorrelation based on maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA was 50-fold higher than relatedness estimated from microsatellite loci, indicating spatial overlap of females from different social groups with high rates of male-mediated dispersal and gene flow among groups. Probability of CWD infection in adult females was significantly increased by closely related (full-sibling, mother-offspring) infected females that were both spatially proximate (≤3.2 km) and farther distant. To a minor extent, the probability of infection was also influenced by the number of nearby infected females (≤3.2 km), but not by the number of infected males. Direct deer-to-deer transmission of CWD between closely related female deer may be an important route of local CWD transmission. Synthesis and applications. Random mixing and infectious contact may be inadequate models for CWD transmission and disease spread in female deer. Frequency-dependent CWD transmission may be important for females because infectious contacts are limited between members of different female social groups, even if ranges overlap. Given that our data demonstrate a strong relationship between infection probability and female relatedness, CWD management should consider female harvest to maintain smaller female social groups and reduce contact among female deer. However, evaluation of the effects of this strategy on deer social behaviour and contact is needed.

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