Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are important game mammals and potential reservoirs of diseases of domestic livestock, so diseases of deer are of great concern to wildlife managers. In many situations, models can be useful for integrating existing data, understanding disease transmission patterns, and predicting effects on host populations. Individual-based modeling (IBM) has become more commonplace in ecology as a tool to link individual behavior to population dynamics and community interactions, especially for gauging the effects of management actions. Spatially explicit IBMs are especially useful when ecological processes, such as disease transmission, are affected by the spatial composition of the environment. I developed a spatially explicit IBM, DeerLandscapeDisease (DLD), to simulate direct and indirect disease transmission in white-tailed deer. Using data from GPS-collared deer in southern Illinois, I developed methods to identify habitats and times of high contact probability. I parameterized movement models, for use in DLD, using field data from GPS-collared deer in both southern and east-central Illinois. I then used DLD to simulate deer movements and epizootiology in two different landscapes: a predominantly agricultural landscape with fragmented forest patches in east-central Illinois and a landscape dominated by forest in southern Illinois. Behavioral and demographic parameters that could not be estimated from the field data were estimated using published literature of deer ecology. I assumed that bioavailability of infectious pathogens deposited in the environment decreased exponentially. Transmission probabilities were estimated by fitting to published trends in infection prevalence, assuming that infection probability during an encounter was equal for all age classes, so infection prevalence varied with sex- and age-specific behavior. DLD simulations of chronic wasting disease epizootiology demonstrated significant effects of landscape structure, social behavior, and mode of transmission on prevalence, emphasizing the importance of spatial, temporal and behavioral heterogeneity in disease modeling. These results demonstrate the utility of IBMs in incorporating spatio-temporal variables as well as animal behavior when predicting and modeling disease spread.
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