Chronic wasting disease model of genetic selection favoring prolonged survival in Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus)


  • Corresponding Editor: D. P. C. Peters.


As the area where chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been found continues to expand, there is concern over the impact it may have on elk (Cervus elaphus) populations that congregate on winter feedgrounds in Wyoming. A stochastic simulation model was created to determine the effect that genotype-specific CWD mortality rates had on a hypothetical free-ranging elk population. Life table data gathered from captive elk held in a CWD-contaminated facility was used to parameterize the model. Modeling the free-ranging elk herd without hunting or differences in survival by genotype resulted in a near extinction decrease in elk numbers over a 100-year period. However, incorporating differences in CWD-mortality by genotype into the model allowed the population to stabilize if hunting was modified to harvest only antlered elk. Our results indicate that, with flexible hunting management, elk populations could adapt to CWD through changes in the frequency of genotypes associated with the incubation time for CWD.