Montana Wildlife Project
Investigating the Role of Host Behavior and Environmental Transmission in CWD Dynamics
October 2022 - September 2025
Chronic wasting disease (CWD), an invariably fatal neurologic disease of cervids, is a major concern for the health of herds in affected regions of North America. Conservation activities for game and non-game species of many wildlife agencies are funded by hunter license sales, and therefore negative effects of CWD on cervid populations and/or hunter participation will have broad, down-stream impacts on wildlife conservation. This makes CWD a major management concern for wildlife agencies and has created demand for tools to monitor and manage CWD spread. Understanding the principles of transmission is crucial for developing effective CWD control tools to target key weaknesses in transmission. Elucidating such principles is challenging for CWD because it is transmitted both directly and indirectly, through environment exposure, and requires an understanding of diverse multi-scale drivers, from fine-scale host interactions with pathogens in environmental reservoirs to large-scale movements of natural populations in heterogeneous landscapes. To date, and often at high political cost, CWD managers have focused on mechanisms of direct transmission, because risk posed by indirect transmission is not understood. Therefore, in collaboration with the WI Department of Natural Resources, the WICWRU and University of Wisconsin, we will leverage and integrate our on-going innovations in CWD modeling, laboratory methods/experiments and field investigation to explore how heterogeneities in host habitat, behavior, and movement mediate direct transmission, deposition of prions into the environment, and subsequent indirect transmission via environmental reservoirs. This will guide managers’ decision-making and help focus response efforts on high-impact transmission mechanisms.