Get access

Environmental persistence of Brucella abortus in the Greater Yellowstone Area


  • Associate Editor: Christopher Jacques


Bison (Bison bison) and elk (Cervus elaphus) of the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) are the last remaining reservoirs of bovine brucellosis (Brucella abortus) in the United States. An important factor in evaluating the risk of transmission to cattle is the persistence of bacteria and infectious birth materials shed on pastures where cattle graze. We selected 2 study areas near the northern and western boundaries of Yellowstone National Park (YNP) to determine the persistence of bacteria on fetal tissue, soil, and vegetation, and scavenging on infectious materials from birth and abortion sites. We performed 3 independent field experiments to determine: 1) persistence of Brucella abortus (RB51) purposely applied to fetal tissues, 2) scavenging of fetuses by native scavengers, and 3) natural contamination of birth or abortion sites in the GYA. Results from these field experiments established that Brucella bacteria can persist on fetal tissues and soil or vegetation for 21–81 days depending on month, temperature, and exposure to sunlight. Bacteria purposely applied to fetal tissues persisted longer in February than May and did not survive on tissues beyond 10 June regardless of when they were set out. Brucella abortus field strain persisted up to 43 days on soil and vegetation at naturally contaminated bison birth or abortion sites. Fetuses were scavenged by a variety of birds and mammals in areas near YNP and more rapidly inside YNP than outside the Park boundary. Models derived from our data determined a 0.05% chance of bacterial survival beyond 26 days (95% Credible Interval of 18–30 days) for a contamination event in May. May 15 is the final date for hazing all bison into Yellowstone National Park under the current interagency bison management plan. With these data managers can predict when it is safe to graze cattle onto pastures previously occupied by bison. © 2011 The Wildlife Society.