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Concept: Badgers

157

We monitored the ranging of a wild European badger (Meles meles) population over 7 years using GPS tracking collars. Badger range sizes varied seasonally and reached their maximum in June, July and August. We analysed the summer ranging behaviour, using 83 home range estimates from 48 individuals over 6974 collar-nights. We found that while most adult badgers (males and females) remained within their own traditional social group boundaries, several male badgers (on average 22%) regularly ranged beyond these traditional boundaries. These adult males frequently ranged throughout two (or more) social group’s traditional territories and had extremely large home ranges. We therefore refer to them as super-rangers. While ranging across traditional boundaries has been recorded over short periods of time for extraterritorial mating and foraging forays, or for pre-dispersal exploration, the animals in this study maintained their super-ranges from 2 to 36 months. This study represents the first time such long-term extra-territorial ranging has been described for European badgers. Holding a super-range may confer an advantage in access to breeding females, but could also affect local interaction networks. In Ireland & the UK, badgers act as a wildlife reservoir for bovine tuberculosis (TB). Super-ranging may facilitate the spread of disease by increasing both direct interactions between conspecifics, particularly across social groups, and indirect interactions with cattle in their shared environment. Understanding super-ranging behaviour may both improve our understanding of tuberculosis epidemiology and inform future control strategies.

Concepts: Male, Tuberculosis, Sex, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers, Asian Badger

82

Wildlife is a global source of endemic and emerging infectious diseases. The control of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle in Britain and Ireland is hindered by persistent infection in wild badgers (Meles meles). Vaccination with Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) has been shown to reduce the severity and progression of experimentally induced TB in captive badgers. Analysis of data from a four-year clinical field study, conducted at the social group level, suggested a similar, direct protective effect of BCG in a wild badger population. Here we present new evidence from the same study identifying both a direct beneficial effect of vaccination in individual badgers and an indirect protective effect in unvaccinated cubs. We show that intramuscular injection of BCG reduced by 76% (Odds ratio = 0.24, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.11-0.52) the risk of free-living vaccinated individuals testing positive to a diagnostic test combination to detect progressive infection. A more sensitive panel of tests for the detection of infection per se identified a reduction of 54% (Odds ratio = 0.46, 95% CI 0.26-0.88) in the risk of a positive result following vaccination. In addition, we show the risk of unvaccinated badger cubs, but not adults, testing positive to an even more sensitive panel of diagnostic tests decreased significantly as the proportion of vaccinated individuals in their social group increased (Odds ratio = 0.08, 95% CI 0.01-0.76; P = 0.03). When more than a third of their social group had been vaccinated, the risk to unvaccinated cubs was reduced by 79% (Odds ratio = 0.21, 95% CI 0.05-0.81; P = 0.02).

Concepts: Immune system, Infectious disease, Malaria, Tuberculosis, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers

78

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a very important disease of cattle in Great Britain, where it has been increasing in incidence and geographical distribution. In addition to cattle, it infects other species of domestic and wild animals, in particular the European badger (Meles meles). Policy to control bTB is vigorously debated and contentious because of its implications for the livestock industry and because some policy options involve culling badgers, the most important wildlife reservoir. This paper describes a project to provide a succinct summary of the natural science evidence base relevant to the control of bTB, couched in terms that are as policy-neutral as possible. Each evidence statement is placed into one of four categories describing the nature of the underlying information. The evidence summary forms the appendix to this paper and an annotated bibliography is provided in the electronic supplementary material.

Concepts: Natural environment, Cattle, Nature, Wildlife, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers

29

SUMMARY The European badger (Meles meles) has been identified as a wildlife reservoir of bovine tuberculosis and a source of transmission to cattle in Britain and Ireland. Both behavioural ecology and statistical ecological modelling have indicated the long-term persistence of the disease in some badger communities, and this is postulated to account for the high incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle across large tracts of England and Wales. This paper questions this consensus by using historical cartographic evidence to show that tuberculosis in cattle had a very different spatial distribution before 1960 to the present day. Since few of the badgers collected in road traffic accidents between 1972 and 1990 had tuberculosis in counties such as Cheshire, where the disease had until shortly before that been rife in the cattle population, the role of badgers as reservoirs in spreading disease in similar counties outside the south-west of England has to be questioned.

Concepts: Time, United Kingdom, Cattle, Ireland, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers

24

In the United Kingdom, European badgers Meles meles are a protected species and an important wildlife reservoir of bovine tuberculosis. We conducted a survey of badger dens (main setts) in 1614 1 km squares across England and Wales, between November 2011 and March 2013. Using main setts as a proxy for badger social groups, the estimated mean density of badger social groups in England and Wales was 0.485 km(-2) (95% confidence interval 0.449-0.521) and the estimated abundance of social groups was 71,600 (66,400-76,900). In the 25 years since the first survey in 1985-88, the annual rate of increase in the estimated number of badger social groups was 2.6% (2.2-2.9%), equating to an 88% (70-105%) increase across England and Wales. In England, we estimate there has been an increase of 103% (83-123%) in badger social groups, while in Wales there has been little change (-25 to +49%).

Concepts: Statistics, United Kingdom, England, Wales, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers

17

Effective management of biological resources is contingent upon stakeholder compliance with rules. With respect to disease management, partial compliance can undermine attempts to control diseases within human and wildlife populations. Estimating non-compliance is notoriously problematic as rule-breakers may be disinclined to admit to transgressions. However, reliable estimates of rule-breaking are critical to policy design. The European badger (Meles meles) is considered an important vector in the transmission and maintenance of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle herds. Land managers in high bTB prevalence areas of the UK can cull badgers under license. However, badgers are also known to be killed illegally. The extent of illegal badger killing is currently unknown. Herein we report on the application of three innovative techniques (Randomized Response Technique (RRT); projective questioning (PQ); brief implicit association test (BIAT)) for investigating illegal badger killing by livestock farmers across Wales. RRT estimated that 10.4% of farmers killed badgers in the 12 months preceding the study. Projective questioning responses and implicit associations relate to farmers' badger killing behavior reported via RRT. Studies evaluating the efficacy of mammal vector culling and vaccination programs should incorporate estimates of non-compliance. Mitigating the conflict concerning badgers as a vector of bTB requires cross-disciplinary scientific research, departure from deep-rooted positions, and the political will to implement evidence-based management.

Concepts: Management, Cattle, Mustelidae, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers, Asian Badger

13

The European badger (Meles meles) is of considerable interest in the UK as it is both a protected species and the main wildlife reservoir for bovine tuberculosis infection in cattle. While there have been three national badger surveys in the 1980s, 1990s and 2011-13, using the number of badger main setts as a proxy for the abundance of badger social groups, none has combined contemporary data on social group size at landscape and national scales. We estimated social group size by genotyping hair samples collected at 120 main setts across England and Wales and employing a capture-mark-recapture method based on genotypes. The estimated mean social group size in England and Wales was 6.74 (±0.63) badgers. There was considerable variation in badger social group size among Land Class Groups (LCGs), with a low of 2.67 in LCG3 and a high of 7.92 in LCG4. Combining these results with the recent Badger Sett Survey of England and Wales, we estimate there are approximately 485,000 badgers (95% confidence intervals 391,000-581,000) in England and Wales. Although direct comparison with previous estimates is not ideal owing to methodological differences, our results are consistent with a marked increase in the badger population of England and Wales since the 1980s.

Concepts: Statistics, United Kingdom, England, Estimation, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers

13

Bovine tuberculosis is endemic in cattle herds in Great Britain, with a substantial economic impact. A reservoir of Mycobacterium bovis within the Eurasian badger (Meles meles) population is thought to have hindered disease control. Cattle herd incidents, termed breakdowns, that are either ‘prolonged’ (lasting ≥240 days) or ‘recurrent’ (with another breakdown within a specified time period) may be important foci for onward spread of infection. They drain veterinary resources and can be demoralising for farmers. Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) data were re-analysed to examine the effects of two culling strategies on breakdown prolongation and recurrence, during and after culling, using a Bayesian hierarchical model. Separate effect estimates were obtained for the ‘core’ trial areas (where culling occurred) and the ‘buffer’ zones (up to 2 km outside of the core areas). For breakdowns that started during the culling period, ‘reactive’ (localised) culling was associated with marginally increased odds of prolongation, with an odds ratio (OR) of 1.7 (95% credible interval [CI] 1.1-2.4) within the core areas. This effect was not present after the culling ceased. There was no notable effect of ‘proactive’ culling on prolongation. In contrast, reactive culling had no effect on breakdown recurrence, though there was evidence of a reduced risk of recurrence in proactive core areas during the culling period (ORs and 95% CIs: 0.82 (0.64-1.0) and 0.69 (0.54-0.86) for 24- and 36-month recurrence respectively). Again these effects were not present after the culling ceased. There seemed to be no effect of culling on breakdown prolongation or recurrence in the buffer zones. These results suggest that the RBCT badger culling strategies are unlikely to reduce either the prolongation or recurrence of breakdowns in the long term, and that reactive strategies (such as employed during the RBCT) are, if anything, likely to impact detrimentally on breakdown persistence.

Concepts: Tuberculosis, Mycobacterium, Cattle, Mycobacterium bovis, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers

12

Experimental evidence of the interactions among mammalian predators that eat or compete with one another is rare, due to the ethical and logistical challenges of managing wild populations in a controlled and replicated way. Here, we report on the opportunistic use of a replicated and controlled culling experiment (the Randomised Badger Culling Trial) to investigate the relationship between two sympatric predators: European badgers Meles meles and western European hedgehogs Erinaceus europaeus. In areas of preferred habitat (amenity grassland), counts of hedgehogs more than doubled over a 5-year period from the start of badger culling (from 0.9 ha-1 pre-cull to 2.4 ha-1 post-cull), whereas hedgehog counts did not change where there was no badger culling (0.3-0.3 hedgehogs ha-1). This trial provides experimental evidence for mesopredator release as an outcome of management of a top predator.

Concepts: Predation, Europe, Apex predator, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers, Hedgehog

7

Although disease hosts are classically assumed to interact randomly [1], infection is likely to spread across structured and dynamic contact networks [2]. We used social network analyses to investigate contact patterns of group-living European badgers, Meles meles, which are an important wildlife reservoir of bovine tuberculosis (TB). We found that TB test-positive badgers were socially isolated from their own groups but were more important for flow, potentially of infection, between social groups. The distinctive social position of infected badgers may help explain how social stability mitigates, and social perturbation increases, the spread of infection in badgers.

Concepts: Sociology, Tuberculosis, Social network, Network theory, Badger, European Badger, Meles, Badgers