Wildlife Population Structure and Parasite Transmission: Implications for Disease Management

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Emerging infectious diseases have become an important challenge for wildlife ecologists and managers. Management actions to control these diseases are usually directed at the parasite, the host population, or a key component of the environment, with the goal of reducing disease exposure and transmission. Control methods directed at the host population, however, remain limited in approach (e.g. vaccination, population reduction, test-and-remove) and scope, by financial, logistical, ethical and political constraints. Furthermore, these control methods have often been implemented without due consideration of how host ecology and behaviour may influence disease dynamics. This chapter highlights how host population structure and social organisation affect parasite transmission and prevalence.

Traditionally, variation in disease prevalence among species, genders, and ages may have been explained by immunological differences in susceptibility. However, ecological and behavioural factors can also affect the rates and routes of parasite transmission and potential control options. Using this information, future control efforts may be improved by focusing on subsets of individuals, areas, environmental factors, or times of year that are most important in the propagation and persistence of a pathogen.