Wendy Turner, assistant unit leader for the Wisconsin Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit and forest and wildlife ecology visiting scientist, recently received funding for her project “Modeling host behavior and environmental transmission of chronic wasting disease” through NIFA-AFRI’s Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Disease program. It was one of two projects that share $5 million in funding from this joint program with the National Science Foundation.
Project description (from CRIS website): Understanding disease transmission is difficult when infection occurs both due to direct contact between individuals and indirect exposure to pathogens in the environment. For example, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal disease of deer spread by infectious proteins called prions. Understanding and managing CWD spread requires sorting out complex habitat use, deer movement, and behavior that affects direct transmission, as well as tracking infectious prions in the environment and how the deer may encounter them. This project will develop a general modeling framework, linking landscape features, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) movement, prion contamination and transmission routes, describing how individual behavior affects disease spread in space and time. We will determine the extent and infection pressure of prions in the environment. Modern observation methods will reveal how deer behavior, movement, and interactions with infectious prions contribute to infection across habitat patches. Mathematical models will link deer social behavior and movement with prion retention, transport, and infection potential in complex landscapes. Application of homogenization, a technique which averages many small processes into broader net effects, will link fine-scale infection pathways with large-scale population impacts on deer in Wisconsin. We will statistically test our models to assess the relative strength of disease pathways and the impacts of population management and landscape disturbance. By connecting models for direct and indirect transmission paths with data streams at many scales, this research will advance understanding and management of a broad range of human and animal diseases.