The spatial distribution of badgers, setts and latrines: the risk for intra-specific and badger-livestock disease transmission
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The spatial distribution of wildlife hosts and the associated environmental distribution of their excretory products are important factors associated with the risk of disease transmission between wildlife and livestock. At a landscape scale, heterogeneous distribution of a wildlife host will create regional hot spots for disease risk, while at the farm level, distributional patterns of wildlife excretory products as well as habitat use are of primary importance to the assessment of disease risk to livestock. In the UK, badgers have been implicated in the transmission of bovine tuberculosis to cattle. In this study, we focus on the spatial and social organization and habitat use of badgers as well as the distributions of their excretions at latrine and sett sites to assess intra- and inter-species (badger–cattle) disease risk. Across the study site, badger latrines and setts were found in prominent clusters, at distances of up to 250 and 200 m respectively. This was partly due to small-scale clustering of latrines around sett sites, so that disease risk may be higher within the vicinity of setts. The clustered distribution suggests that sites of high risk for TB transmission may be localised within farms. Exclusion of cattle from the few sett and latrine sites within their grazing pasture is therefore likely to provide an effective way of reducing the risk of disease transmission. We also found evidence of social sub-division within badger social groups based on differences in the use of main and outlier setts. This may contribute to localised clusters of infection within the badger population, resulting in heterogeneous patterns of environmental disease risk to the wider host community. A greater understanding of variation in host behaviour and its implications for patterns of disease will allow the development of more targeted and effective management strategies for wildlife disease in group-living hosts.
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