Habitat influences distribution of chronic wasting disease in white-tailed deer

Tyler S. Evans, Megan S. Kirchgessner, Brian Eyler, Christopher W. Ryan, W. David Walter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy that was first detected in 1967 in a captive research facility in Colorado. In the northeastern United States, CWD was first confirmed in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) in 2005. Because CWD is a new and emerging disease with a spatial distribution that had yet to be assessed in the Northeast, we examined demographic, environmental, and spatial effects to determine how each related to this spatial distribution. The objectives of our study were to identify environmental and spatial effects that best described the spatial distribution of CWD in free-ranging white-tailed deer and identify areas that support deer that are at risk for CWD infection in the Northeast. We used Bayesian hierarchical modeling that incorporated demographic covariates, such as sex and age, along with environmental covariates, which included elevation, slope, riparian corridor, percent clay, and 3 landscapes (i.e., developed, forested, open). The model with the most support contained landscape covariates and spatial effects that represented clustering of CWD in adjacent grid cells. Forested landscapes had the strongest relationship with the distribution of CWD, with increased risk of CWD occurring in areas that had lesser amounts of forest. Our results will assist resource managers in understanding the spatial distribution of CWD within the study area, and in surrounding areas where CWD has yet to be found. Efficiency of disease surveillance and containment efforts can be improved by allocating resources used for surveillance in areas with deer populations that are at greatest risk for infection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)284-291
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Wildlife Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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