Impact of test, vaccinate and remove protocol on home ranges and nightly movements of badgers in a medium density population

Sophie H. A. Redpath, Nikki J. Marks, Fraser D. Menzies, Maria J. H. O’Hagan, Rory P. Wilson, Sinéad Smith, Elizabeth A. Magowan, David W. McClune, Shane F. Collins, Carl M. McCormick, D. Michael Scantlebury*

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

In the British Isles, the European badger (Meles meles) is thought to be the primary wildlife reservoir of bovine tuberculosis (bTB), an endemic disease in cattle. Test, vaccinate or remove (‘TVR’) of bTB test-positive badgers, has been suggested to be a potentially useful protocol to reduce bTB incidence in cattle. However, the practice of removing or culling badgers is controversial both for ethical reasons and because there is no consistent observed effect on bTB levels in cattle. While removing badgers reduces population density, it may also result in disruption of their social behaviour, increase their ranging, and lead to greater intra- and inter-species bTB transmission. This effect has been recorded in high badger density areas, such as in southwest England. However, little is known about how TVR affects the behaviour and movement of badgers within a medium density population, such as those that occur in Northern Ireland (NI), which the current study aimed to examine. During 2014–2017, badger ranging behaviours were examined prior to and during a TVR protocol in NI. Nightly distances travelled by 38 individuals were determined using Global Positioning System (GPS) measurements of animal tracks and GPS-enhanced dead-reckoned tracks. The latter was calculated using GPS, tri-axial accelerometer and tri-axial magnetometer data loggers attached to animals. Home range and core home range size were measured using 95% and 50% autocorrelated kernel density estimates, respectively, based on location fixes. TVR was not associated with measured increases in either distances travelled per night (mean = 3.31 ± 2.64 km) or home range size (95% mean = 1.56 ± 0.62 km2, 50% mean = 0.39 ± 0.62 km2) over the four years of study. However, following trapping, mean distances travelled per night increased by up to 44% eight days post capture. Findings differ from those observed in higher density badger populations in England, in which badger ranging increased following culling. Whilst we did not assess behaviours of individual badgers, possible reasons why no differences in home range size were observed include higher inherent ‘social fluidity’ in Irish populations whereby movements are less restricted by habitat saturation and/or that the numbers removed did not reach a threshold that might induce increases in ranging behaviour. Nevertheless, short-term behavioural disruption from trapping was observed, which led to significant increases in the movements of individual animals within their home range. Whether or not TVR may alter badger behaviours remains to be seen, but it would be better to utilise solutions such as oral vaccination of badgers and/or cattle as well as increased biosecurity to limit bTB transmission, which may be less likely to cause interference and thereby reduce the likelihood of bTB transmission.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2592
JournalScientific Reports
Volume13
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2023

Keywords

  • Animals
  • Cattle
  • Disease Reservoirs - veterinary
  • Homing Behavior
  • Mustelidae
  • Mycobacterium bovis
  • Population Density
  • Tuberculosis, Bovine - epidemiology
  • United Kingdom - epidemiology
  • Vaccination - veterinary

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