Social group size affects Mycobacterium bovis infection in European badgers (Meles meles)
Article first published online: 30 MAR 2009
© 2009 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2009 British Ecological Society
Journal of Animal Ecology
Volume 78, Issue 4, pages 818–827, July 2009
How to Cite
Woodroffe, R., Donnelly, C. A., Wei, G., Cox, D.R., Bourne, F. J., Burke, T., Butlin, R. K., Cheeseman, C.L., Gettinby, G., Gilks, P., Hedges, S., Jenkins, H. E., Johnston, W. T., McInerney, J. P., Morrison, W. I. and Pope, L. C. (2009), Social group size affects Mycobacterium bovis infection in European badgers (Meles meles). Journal of Animal Ecology, 78: 818–827. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2656.2009.01545.x
- Issue published online: 4 JUN 2009
- Article first published online: 30 MAR 2009
- Received 11 September 2008; accepted 17 February 2009Handling Associate Editor: Atle Mysterud
- bovine tuberculosis;
- cattle TB;
- wildlife disease;
- wildlife host
- 1In most social animals, the prevalence of directly transmitted pathogens increases in larger groups and at higher population densities. Such patterns are predicted by models of Mycobacterium bovis infection in European badgers (Meles meles).
- 2We investigated the relationship between badger abundance and M. bovis prevalence, using data on 2696 adult badgers in 10 populations sampled at the start of the Randomized Badger Culling Trial.
- 3M. bovis prevalence was consistently higher at low badger densities and in small social groups. M. bovis prevalence was also higher among badgers whose genetic profiles suggested that they had immigrated into their assigned social groups.
- 4The association between high M. bovis prevalence and small badger group size appeared not to have been caused by previous small-scale culling in study areas, which had been suspended, on average, 5 years before the start of the current study.
- 5The observed pattern of prevalence might occur through badgers in smaller groups interacting more frequently with members of neighbouring groups; detailed behavioural data are needed to test this hypothesis. Likewise, longitudinal data are needed to determine whether the size of infected groups might be suppressed by disease-related mortality.
- 6Although M. bovis prevalence was lower at high population densities, the absolute number of infected badgers was higher. However, this does not necessarily mean that the risk of M. bovis transmission to cattle is highest at high badger densities, since transmission risk depends on badger behaviour as well as on badger density.