Effects of low-density feeding on elk–fetus contact rates on Wyoming feedgrounds


  • Associate Editor: Christopher Jacques


High seroprevalance for Brucella abortus among elk on Wyoming feedgrounds suggests that supplemental feeding may influence parasite transmission and disease dynamics by altering the rate at which elk contact infectious materials in their environment. We used proximity loggers and video cameras to estimate rates of elk-to-fetus contact (the primary source of brucellosis transmission) during winter supplemental feeding. We compared contact rates during high-density and low-density (LD) feeding treatments that provided the same total amount of food distributed over different areas. Low-density feeding led to >70% reductions in total number of contacts and number of individuals contacting a fetus. Proximity loggers and video cameras provided similar estimates of elk–fetus contact rates. Elk contacted fetuses and random control points equally, suggesting that elk were not attracted to fetuses but encountered them incidentally while feeding. The modeled relationship between contact rate and disease prevalence is nonlinear and LD feeding may result in large reductions in brucellosis prevalence, but this depends on the amount of transmission that occurs on and off feedgrounds. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.