Interactions between four species in a complex wildlife: livestock disease community: implications for Mycobacterium bovis maintenance and transmission

Cowie, E.C., Hutchings, M.R., Barasona, J.A., Gortázar, C., Vicente, J., White, P.C.L. 2016. European Journal of Wildlife Research 62, 51-64 (Open Access Article).


Livestock diseases such as bovine tuberculosis can have considerable negative effects on human health and economic activity. Wildlife reservoirs often hinder disease eradication in sympatric livestock populations. Therefore, quantifying interactions between wildlife and livestock is an important aspect of understanding disease persistence. This study was conducted on an extensive cattle farm in southwest Spain, where cattle, domestic pigs, wild boar and red deer are considered to be part of a tuberculosis host community. We tested the hypothesis that the frequency of both types of interactions would be greater at food and water sites, due to the aggregation of individuals from multiple species at these locations. We measured direct and indirect interactions between individuals using GPS and proximity loggers. Over 57,000 direct interactions were recorded over a 2-year period, of which 875 (1.5 %) occurred between different species and 216 (0.38 %) occurred between wildlife and livestock. Most direct and indirect interactions occurred at water sites. Over 90 % of indirect interactions between wildlife and livestock took place within the estimated 3-day environmental survival time of Mycobacterium bovis in this habitat. Red deer home ranges and daily activity patterns revealed significant spatial and temporal overlaps with cattle, particularly in autumn. Suids and red deer also cross the farm boundary regularly, introducing a between-farm interaction risk. The infrequent occurrence of direct interactions between individuals from different species suggests that they are unlikely to be the sole mode of disease transmission and that indirect interactions may play an important role.

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