Disease risks and overabundance of game species
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- Gortázar, C., Acevedo, P., Ruiz-Fons, F. et al. Eur J Wildl Res (2006) 52: 81. doi:10.1007/s10344-005-0022-2
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Different studies have evidenced the relationship between host abundance and health status of wildlife populations. Diseases that benefit from wildlife overabundance can affect not only the fitness and trophy quality of game species, but also public health, livestock health, and the conservation of endangered species. This paper reviews a number of European examples to highlight the relationship between overabundance and disease in game species, and discusses the possibilities of limiting the associated risks. Management tools to estimate overabundance are needed for legislative purposes and for the monitoring of wildlife populations, but artificial feeding interferes in the objective measurement of overabundance. Therefore, we propose a multidisciplinary approach to diagnose if a given wildlife population is overabundant. This includes not only signs such as adverse effects on the soil, vegetation or fauna (first group), poor body condition scores, low trophy scores or low reproductive performance (second group), or increased parasite burdens (third group), but also the measurement of infectious disease prevalences (the fourth group of overabundance signs). This combined assessment of overabundance ideally requires the cooperation of wildlife managers, botanists, and veterinarians. Once a given wildlife population is defined as overabundant, it is difficult to establish palliative management actions. These can consist in banning certain management tools (e.g. feeding) or increasing the hunting harvest, but both of them are difficult to implement in practice. A close monitoring of both wildlife densities and wildlife diseases, the establishment of reference values for all signs of overabundance, and the mapping of the disease and density hotspots will be needed to design adequate risk-control measures for each particular situation.