Indexed on: 20 Dec '18Published on: 20 Dec '18Published in: Frontiers in veterinary science
Although tuberculosis caused by (bTB) is endemic in white-tailed deer () in northeastern Michigan, USA, baiting and feeding of deer continue despite a regulatory ban. Previous modeling suggests aggregation at bait sites slows the rates at which harvest and/or vaccination decrease bTB prevalence, prolongs time to eradication, and increases the likelihood that once eradicated, bTB will re-establish following an incursion. However, the extent to which specific factors such as food density, attractiveness to deer, and persistence on the landscape influence bTB transmission is unknown. We used an individual-based, spatially-explicit stochastic simulation model of bTB in deer and cattle to investigate effects of feed density, attractiveness, and spatial and temporal persistence on bTB prevalence in deer and the probability of breakdowns in adjacent cattle herds. Because hunter harvest remains key to controlling bTB in deer, and harvest rates are in long term decline, we modeled these feeding-associated factors at harvest rates prevailing both when the model was developed (2003-2007) and in 2018. Food placement at randomized locations vs. fixed sites had little effect on bTB prevalence in deer, whereas increasing the probability that deer move to food piles (attractiveness) had the greatest effect of factors studied on both prevalence and herd breakdowns. Reducing food pile density reduced prevalence, but decreased herd breakdowns only modestly. Consistent availability of food over longer periods of time, as would occur with supplemental winter feeding or persistent recreational feeding, increased both prevalence in deer and cattle herd breakdowns dramatically. Though perhaps implausible to the public, altering how bait and feed for deer are used can reduce cattle herd breakdowns. Baiting and feeding bans have contributed to declining bTB prevalence, but non-compliance and continued legal sales of feed impede eradication. Requiring hunters to move food piles is unlikely to mitigate effects on transmission and is not a useful management tool. Compared to baiting, winter supplemental feeding or extended recreational feeding is likely to magnify bTB transmission by prolonging temporal availability. Because attractiveness of feed is influenced both by type of feed and deer behavior, research to quantify factors influencing deer movement to food should be a priority.