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Keywords:

  • dispersal;
  • genetic population structure;
  • Meles meles;
  • microsatellite;
  • sex bias;
  • spatial autocorrelation

Abstract

The Eurasian badger (Meles meles) has been implicated in the transmission of bovine tuberculosis (TB, caused by Mycobacterium bovis) to cattle. However, evidence suggests that attempts to reduce the spread of TB among cattle in Britain by culling badgers have mixed effects. A large-scale field experiment (the randomized badger culling trial, RBCT) showed that widespread proactive badger culling reduced the incidence of TB in cattle within culled areas but that TB incidence increased in adjoining areas. Additionally, localized reactive badger culling increased the incidence of TB in cattle. It has been suggested that culling-induced perturbation of badger social structure may increase individual movements and elevate the risk of disease transmission between badgers and cattle. Field studies support this hypothesis, by demonstrating increases in badger group ranges and the prevalence of TB infection in badgers following culling. However, more evidence on the effect of culling on badger movements is needed in order to predict the epidemiological consequences of this control strategy. Here, analysis of the genetic signatures of badger populations in the RBCT revealed increased dispersal following culling. While standard tests provided evidence for greater dispersal after culling, a novel method indicated that this was due to medium- and long-distance dispersal, in addition to previously reported increases in home-range size. Our results also indicated that, on average, badgers infected with M. bovis moved significantly farther than did uninfected badgers. A disease control strategy that included culling would need to take account of the potentially negative epidemiological consequences of increased badger dispersal.