Social organization and movement influence the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in an undisturbed high-density badger Meles meles population


Neil Walker, CSL Research Unit, Woodchester Park, Nympsfield, Glos. GL10 3UJ, UK. Tel.: 01453 861400. Fax: 01453 860132. E-mail:


  • 1The culling of European badgers Meles meles has been a central part of attempts to control bovine tuberculosis (TB) in British cattle for many years. Recent results, however, indicate that this approach could in practice enhance disease spread.
  • 2This paper looks at the relationship between TB incidence and badger ecology in a high-density population in south-west England, which has been the subject of a long-term intensive study. The principal aims were to relate the probability of TB incidence, as detected by culture of clinical samples (i.e. excretion of bacilli), at the level of the individual and of the social group to demographic processes, movement, social organization and disease dynamics.
  • 3The probability of an individual being an incident case was greater in groups where TB was already present, although this was less influential in groups that were subject to some instability in numbers. Both individuals and groups were more likely to be incident cases where the social group was diminishing in size, although no relationship was observed with group size itself. This suggests that the process of group size reduction rather than group size per se has most influence on disease dynamics. The likelihood that either an individual or a group was an incident case was positively correlated with both individual and group-level movement. When the proportion of females in a social group was high, the positive association between movement and incidence was found to be more pronounced and there was a significantly higher probability of incident cases among males.
  • 4These relationships highlight the importance of social structure in driving TB transmission dynamics in this stable, high-density badger population. The results support the idea that a stable social structure mitigates against new incident cases of disease, and are consistent with the contention that badger culling may create the social circumstances for enhanced transmission of TB.