Establishment and spread of infectious diseases are controlled by the frequency of contacts among hosts. Although managers can estimate transmission coefficients from the relationship between disease prevalence and age or time, they may wish to quantify or compare contact rates before a disease is established or while it is at very low prevalence. Our objectives were to quantify direct and indirect contacts rates among white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and to compare these measures of contact rate with simpler measures of joint space use. We deployed Global Positioning System (GPS) collars on 23 deer near Carbondale, Illinois, USA, from 2002 to 2005. We used location data from the GPS collars to measure pairwise rates of direct and indirect contact, based on a range of proximity criteria and time lags, as well as volume of intersection (VI) of kernel utilization distributions. We analyzed contact rates at a given distance criterion and time lag using mixed-model logistic regression. Direct contact rates increased with increasing VI and were higher in autumn–spring than in summer. After accounting for VI, the estimated odds of direct contact during autumn–spring periods were 5.0–22.1-fold greater (depending on the proximity criterion) for pairs of deer in the same social group than for between-group pairs, but for direct contacts during summer the within:between-group odds ratio did not differ significantly from 1. Indirect contact rates also increased with VI, but the effects of both season and pair-type were much smaller than for direct contacts and differed little as the time lag increased from 1–30 days. These results indicate that simple measures of joint space use are insufficient indices of direct contact because group membership can substantially increase contacts at a given level of joint space use. With indirect transmission, however, group membership had a much smaller influence after accounting for VI. Relationships between contact rates and season, VI, and pair-type were generally robust to changes in the proximity criterion defining a contact, and patterns of indirect contacts were affected little by the choice of time lag from 1–30 days. The use of GPS collars provides a framework for testing hypotheses about the form of contact networks among large mammals and comparing potential direct and indirect contact rates across gradients of ecological factors, such as population density or landscape configuration.
Schauber, Eric M., Storm, Daniel J. and Nielsen, Clayton K. "Effects of Joint Space Use and Group Membership on Contact Rates Among White-Tailed Deer." Journal of Wildlife Management 71, No. 1 (Feb 2007): 155-163. doi:10.2193.2005-546.