Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Wisconsin Wildlife
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Wisconsin Wildlife Project

Modeling host behavior and environmental transmission of chronic wasting disease

August 2022 - July 2027


Participating Agencies

  • National Insititute of Food and Agriculture

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) threatens cervids across North America and impacts human communities that hunt, raise, or subsist on deer. This emerging disease is caused by an infectious, misfolded protein, known as a prion, that can be transmitted directly between hosts or via environmental reservoirs. Understanding the principles of infectious disease transmission is crucial for identifying management tools for disease control and prevention. Elucidating such principles is challenging in host-pathogen systems when transmission occurs both directly and indirectly through the environment. Researchers must disentangle diverse multi-scale drivers, from fine-scale host interactions with pathogens in environmental reservoirs to large-scale movements of natural populations in heterogeneous landscapes. This project is a collaboration among researchers across multiple agencies and universities including USGS Cooperative Wildlife Research Units (Wisconsin and Montana), Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Montana, and Utah State University. This project proposes a deterministic model scaffold that formally incorporates heterogeneities in social behavior and movement with pathogen retention, transport, and infection potential in complex landscapes. A novel application of multi-scale homogenization to these models will analytically link fine-scale pathways of infection with large-scale population processes. These models will be developed using novel datasets based on new diagnostic techniques to determine the spatial extent and transmission potential of prions in the environment, and modern observation methods to give unprecedented insight into how host behavior and movement, in concert with individual interactions with environmental prion reservoirs, lead to disease transmission in complex environments. Predicted and forecasted prevalence surfaces, with measures of uncertainty, will guide future CWD prevention and control efforts.