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Keywords:

  • chronic wasting disease;
  • Odocoileus virginianus;
  • population genetics;
  • prion;
  • spatial genetic structure;
  • white-tailed deer;
  • wildlife management

Abstract

Chronic wasting disease is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy of cervids, similar to sheep scrapie that has only recently been detected in wild populations of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus hemionus) in western Canada. Relatively little is known about local transmission dynamics of the disease or the potential for long-distance spread. We analysed the population genetic structure of over 2000 white-tailed deer sampled from Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan using microsatellite profiles and mtDNA sequencing to assess the relative risk of disease spread. There was very little differentiation among subpopulations and a weak trend of increasing differentiation with geographic distance. This suggests that the potential for long-distance disease spread through the dispersal of infected individuals is possible, yet the risk of spread should gradually diminish with distance from infection foci. Within subpopulations, females were more related than expected by chance (R > 0) within a radius of approximately 500 m. Sex-biased philopatry and social interactions among related females may facilitate local disease transmission within social groups. Local herd reduction may therefore be an effective tool for reducing the disease prevalence when implemented at the appropriate spatial scale.