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Keywords:

  • bTB;
  • bTB vaccination;
  • culling;
  • dispersal kernel;
  • landscape scale;
  • mark–recapture;
  • Meles meles;
  • sex-biased dispersal;
  • wildlife management

Summary

  1. Characterizing patterns of animal movement is a major aim in population ecology, and yet doing so at an appropriate spatial scale remains a major challenge. Estimating the frequency and distances of movements is of particular importance when species are implicated in the transmission of zoonotic diseases.
  2. European badgers (Meles meles) are classically viewed as exhibiting limited dispersal, and yet their movements bring them into conflict with farmers due to their potential to spread bovine tuberculosis in parts of their range. Considerable uncertainty surrounds the movement potential of badgers, and this may be related to the spatial scale of previous empirical studies. We conducted a large-scale mark–recapture study (755 km2; 2008–2012; 1935 capture events; 963 badgers) to investigate movement patterns in badgers, and undertook a comparative meta-analysis using published data from 15 European populations.
  3. The dispersal movement (>1 km) kernel followed an inverse power-law function, with a substantial ‘tail’ indicating the occurrence of rare long-distance dispersal attempts during the study period. The mean recorded distance from this distribution was 2·6 km, the 95 percentile was 7·3 km and the longest recorded was 22·1 km. Dispersal frequency distributions were significantly different between genders; males dispersed more frequently than females, but females made proportionally more long-distance dispersal attempts than males.
  4. We used a subsampling approach to demonstrate that the appropriate minimum spatial scale to characterize badger movements in our study population was 80 km2, substantially larger than many previous badger studies. Furthermore, the meta-analysis indicated a significant association between maximum movement distance and study area size, while controlling for population density. Maximum long-distance movements were often only recorded by chance beyond the boundaries of study areas.
  5. These findings suggest that the tail of the badger movement distribution is currently underestimated. The implications of this for understanding the spatial ecology of badger populations and for the design of disease intervention strategies are potentially significant.