Taming wildlife disease: bridging the gap between science and management.
Parasites and pathogens of wildlife can threaten biodiversity, infect humans and domestic animals, and cause significant economic losses, providing incentives to manage wildlife diseases. Recent insights from disease ecology have helped transform our understanding of infectious disease dynamics and yielded new strategies to better manage wildlife diseases. Simultaneously, wildlife disease management (WDM) presents opportunities for large-scale empirical tests of disease ecology theory in diverse natural systems. To assess whether the potential complementarity between WDM and disease ecology theory has been realized, we evaluate the extent to which specific concepts in disease ecology theory have been explicitly applied in peer-reviewed WDM literature. While only half of WDM articles published in the past decade incorporated disease ecology theory, theory has been incorporated with increasing frequency over the past 40 years. Contrary to expectations, articles authored by academics were no more likely to apply disease ecology theory, but articles that explain unsuccessful management often do so in terms of theory. Some theoretical concepts such as density-dependent transmission have been commonly applied, whereas emerging concepts such as pathogen evolutionary responses to management, biodiversity-disease relationships and within-host parasite interactions have not yet been fully integrated as management considerations. Synthesis and applications. Theory-based disease management can meet the needs of both academics and managers by testing disease ecology theory and improving disease interventions. Theoretical concepts that have received limited attention to date in wildlife disease management could provide a basis for improving management and advancing disease ecology in the future.