Landscape connectivity can predict the risk of chronic wasting disease

Chronic_Wasting_Disease_Map_September_2012_in_North_AmericaSince its detection in the late 1960s in Colorado, chronic wasting disease (CWD) has affected thousands of cervids in 20 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces, and was recently detected in Europe.  Understanding exactly how the disease is likely to spread between populations is critical in being able to stop it from infecting more individuals.

New research has challenged the traditional method of predicting the spread of CWD by measuring Euclidean distance to the disease source.  Although this method is useful for wild populations where the driver of host movement may be unclear, it ignores the ways that landscape connectivity can direct individual movement and therefore disease movement.  A new study by Norbert et al. predicts CWD occurrence by using a landscape connectivity metric quantified by step selection function modelling and circuit theory.  Models incorporated movement data that was collected from mule deer and white-tailed deer in central Canada since 2000.

The study shows that considering landscape connectivity metrics in spatial patterns of disease spread allows for a much more accurate picture than when using Euclidean distances.  High connectivity was associated with a high risk of CWD, with the highest risk found in areas with dense streams and abundant agriculture where herds are likely to congregate or be funneled.  The authors recommend that landscape connectivity should be  considered among more complex, temporal models to better understand how the disease might spread.  By doing so, managers can not only improve disease surveillance programs, but also increase the likelihood of early detection.


Norbert, B. R., E. H. Merrill, M. J. Pybus, T. K. Bollinger, and Y. T. Hwang. 2016. Landscape connectivity predicts chronic wasting disease risk in Canada. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12677.

2016-10-14T10:10:21+00:00 August 12th, 2016|

About the Author:

Heather Cayton
Heather Cayton is the Managing Director of and a Research Assistant at Michigan State University. She received her B.S. from the University of Virginia and her M.S. from Virginia Tech, and has spent the past nine years studying corridors and rare butterflies in North Carolina.