Paradoxes and synergies: optimizing management of a deadly virus in an endangered carnivore.

Published online
02 Jul 2022
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Gilbertson, M. L. J. & Onorato, D. & Cunningham, M. & Vandewoude, S. & Craft, M. E.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Florida & USA


Pathogen management strategies in wildlife are typically accompanied by an array of uncertainties such as the efficacy of vaccines or potential unintended consequences of interventions. In the context of such uncertainties, models of disease transmission can provide critical insight for optimizing pathogen management, especially for species of conservation concern. The endangered Florida panther experienced an outbreak of feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) in 2002-2004, and continues to be affected by this deadly virus. Ongoing management efforts aim to mitigate the effects of FeLV on panthers, but with limited information about which strategies may be most effective and efficient. We used a simulation-based approach to determine optimal FeLV management strategies in panthers. We simulated the use of proactive FeLV management strategies (i.e. proactive vaccination) and several reactive strategies, including reactive vaccination and test-and-removal. Vaccination strategies accounted for imperfect vaccine-induced immunity, specifically partial immunity in which all vaccinates achieve partial pathogen protection. We compared the effectiveness of these different strategies in mitigating the number of FeLV mortalities and the duration of outbreaks. Results showed that inadequate proactive vaccination can paradoxically increase the number of disease-induced mortalities in FeLV outbreaks. These effects were most likely due to imperfect vaccine immunity causing vaccinates to serve as a semi-susceptible population, thereby allowing outbreaks to persist in circumstances otherwise conducive to fadeout. Combinations of proactive vaccination with reactive test-and-removal or vaccination, however, had a synergistic effect in reducing the impacts of FeLV outbreaks, highlighting the importance of using mixed strategies in pathogen management. Synthesis and applications. Management-informed disease simulations are an important tool for identifying unexpected negative consequences and synergies among pathogen management strategies. In particular, we find that imperfect vaccine-induced immunity necessitates further consideration to avoid unintentionally worsening epidemics in some conditions. However, mixing proactive and reactive interventions can improve pathogen control while mitigating uncertainties associated with imperfect interventions.

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