Infection connections: Badger surveillance project reveals how TB infects their social networks

Oct 21, 2013

Researchers at the University of Exeter and the AHVLA's National Wildlife Management Centre have shown that the social lives of badgers are related to their risk of infection with bovine tuberculosis (TB).

By equipping more than 50 wild badgers with electronic 'proximity collars' that automatically tracked their social contacts, Exeter PhD Student Nicola Weber built a network of contacts across the population and analysed patterns of infection. She found that TB-infected animals were less well-connected to their own groups than uninfected badgers, but at the same time infected individuals formed important links for the flow of infection between groups.

The research, which is published today in the journal Current Biology, suggests this unusual social arrangement may stabilise the spread of TB infection across the population.

Professor Robbie McDonald from the University of Exeter said: "This study has revealed an important link between social networks and TB infection. Infected animals were likely to be less important for spread within groups while at the same time being more important for spread between groups.

"Social stability is thought to mitigate disease spread, perhaps by maintaining the distinctive position of these individuals. Culling badgers perturbs social structures and we think our findings may help understanding of so-called 'perturbation', where culling has been linked to increases in TB in badgers.

"Curbing TB infection in wildlife remains a challenge. Vaccination has the potential to disrupt disease flow, without perturbing social network structures," said McDonald.

Tuberculosis infection in cattle is a major animal health challenge in the UK and Ireland. In 2012, more than 8 million tests were conducted on cattle and 38,000 cattle were slaughtered to control TB. This testing and the resulting compensation are costly; controlling TB costs the UK taxpayer around £100m every year.

The study of the spread of disease through analysis of social networks has applications beyond . The network analyses involved are similar to those used in people and so these techniques can be used to learn about how infection is transferred in a range of behaviourally complex hosts including humans, livestock and wildlife.

Explore further: Feline fame in cyberspace gives species a boost

More information: Current Biology, Weber et al.: "Badger social networks correlate with tuberculosis infection" dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2013.09.011

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Scientists urge Britain to cancel badger cull

Oct 14, 2012

British wildlife experts on Sunday condemned a plan to cull thousands of badgers in the UK in a bid to fight bovine tuberculosis, saying that killing the animals could worsen the problem it aims to solve.

Recommended for you

Scientists target mess from Christmas tree needles

7 hours ago

The presents are unwrapped. The children's shrieks of delight are just a memory. Now it's time for another Yuletide tradition: cleaning up the needles that are falling off your Christmas tree.

The ants that conquered the world

Dec 24, 2014

About one tenth of the world's ants are close relatives; they all belong to just one genus out of 323, called Pheidole. "If you go into any tropical forest and take a stroll, you will step on one of these ...

Ants show left bias when exploring new spaces

Dec 23, 2014

Unlike Derek Zoolander, ants don't have any difficulty turning left. New research from the University of Bristol, UK published today in Biology Letters, has found that the majority of rock ants instinctively go lef ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.