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Ecol Evol. 2019 Nov 13;9(23):13142-13152. doi: 10.1002/ece3.5753. eCollection 2019 Dec.

Dispersal patterns in a medium-density Irish badger population: Implications for understanding the dynamics of tuberculosis transmission.

Author information

1
Department of Zoology School of Natural Sciences Trinity College Dublin Dublin Ireland.
2
Trinity Centre for Biodiversity Research Trinity College Dublin Dublin Ireland.
3
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine Dublin Ireland.
4
Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht National Parks and Wildlife Service Dublin Ireland.

Abstract

European badgers (Meles meles) are group-living mustelids implicated in the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB) to cattle and act as a wildlife reservoir for the disease. In badgers, only a minority of individuals disperse from their natal social group. However, dispersal may be extremely important for the spread of TB, as dispersers could act as hubs for disease transmission. We monitored a population of 139 wild badgers over 7 years in a medium-density population (1.8 individuals/km2). GPS tracking collars were applied to 80 different individuals. Of these, we identified 25 dispersers, 14 of which were wearing collars as they dispersed. This allowed us to record the process of dispersal in much greater detail than ever before. We show that dispersal is an extremely complex process, and measurements of straight-line distance between old and new social groups can severely underestimate how far dispersers travel. Assumptions of straight-line travel can also underestimate direct and indirect interactions and the potential for disease transmission. For example, one female disperser which eventually settled 1.5 km from her natal territory traveled 308 km and passed through 22 different territories during dispersal. Knowledge of badgers' ranging behavior during dispersal is crucial to understanding the dynamics of TB transmission, and for designing appropriate interventions, such as vaccination.

KEYWORDS:

badger; dispersal; movement ecology; ranging behavior; tuberculosis

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