Estimating probabilities of active brucellosis infection in Yellowstone bison through quantitative serology and tissue culture.
Disease management along the boundaries of wildlife reserves is a growing conservation problem worldwide, as infected wildlife can migrate outside protected areas and pose a threat to livestock and human health. The bison Bison bison population in Yellowstone National Park has long been infected with Brucella abortus, but culling of Yellowstone bison to prevent transmission to cattle has been ineffective at reducing brucellosis infection. This management strategy is negatively affecting long-term bison conservation because of difficulties in diagnosing actively infected animals. We integrated age-specific serology and B. abortus culture results from slaughtered Yellowstone bison to estimate probabilities of active brucellosis infection using a Bayesian framework. Infection probabilities were associated with age in young bison (0-5 years old) and with elevated antibody levels in older bison (>5 years old). Our results indicate that Yellowstone bison acquire B. abortus infection early in life but typically recover as they grow older. A tool was developed to allow bison management to better reflect the probability that particular animals are infective, with the aim of conserving Yellowstone bison while reducing the risk of brucellosis transmission to cattle. Combining selective removal of infectious bison with additional management practices, such as vaccination, has the potential to advance an effective brucellosis reduction programme. Synthesis and applications. We conclude that active B. abortus infection in Yellowstone bison is age dependent, which allows true infection probabilities to be estimated based on age and quantitative diagnostic tests. These findings have important application to disease management worldwide where accurate diagnostic tests for wildlife are unavailable. Estimation of true infection probabilities can replace culling practices that conflict with wildlife conservation. The ability to identify infective individuals can improve management practices that support conservation, particularly when human health is at risk or endangered wildlife species are involved.