Infectious wildlife diseases have enormous global impacts, leading to human pandemics, global biodiversity declines and socio-economic hardship. Understanding how infection persists and is transmitted in wildlife is critical for managing diseases, but our understanding is limited. Our study aim was to better understand how infectious disease persists in wildlife populations by integrating genetics, ecology and epidemiology approaches. Specifically, we aimed to determine whether environmental or host factors were stronger drivers of Salmonella persistence or transmission within a remote and isolated wild pig (Sus scrofa) population. We determined the Salmonella infection status of wild pigs. Salmonella isolates were genotyped and a range of data was collected on putative risk factors for Salmonella transmission. We a priori identified several plausible biological hypotheses for Salmonella prevalence (cross sectional study design) versus transmission (molecular case series study design) and fit the data to these models. There were 543 wild pig Salmonella observations, sampled at 93 unique locations. Salmonella prevalence was 41% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 37â¿¿45%). The median Salmonella DICE coefficient (or Salmonella genetic similarity) was 52% (interquartile range [IQR]: 42â¿¿62%). Using the traditional cross sectional prevalence study design, the only supported model was based on the hypothesis that abundance of available ecological resources determines Salmonella prevalence in wild pigs. In the molecular study design, spatial proximity and herd membership as well as some individual risk factors (sex, condition score and relative density) determined transmission between pigs. Traditional cross sectional surveys and molecular epidemiological approaches are complementary and together can enhance understanding of disease ecology: abundance of ecological resources critical for wildlife influences Salmonella prevalence, whereas Salmonella transmission is driven by local spatial, social, density and individual factors, rather than resources. This enhanced understanding has implications for the control of diseases in wildlife populations. Attempts to manage wildlife disease using simplistic density approaches do not acknowledge the complexity of disease ecology.
Cowled, B., Ward, M., Laffan, S., Galea, F., Garner, M., MacDonald, A., Marsh, I., Muellner, P., Negus, K., Woolnough, A., & Sarre, S. (2012). Integrating Survey and Molecular Approaches to Better Understand Wildlife Disease Ecology. PLoS One, 7(10), 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0046310