On the Fringe

Badgers that spend less time at their main den are more likely to carry the pathogen for bovine tuberculosis, according to a new study in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. The finding could help managers control the disease, which can be transmitted from badgers to cattle.

Many European badgers in the UK are infected with a bacterium that causes bovine TB. But not all badgers may have an equally likely chance of carrying the pathogen. With other diseases, scientists have found that animals of a certain sex, age, or personality type are predisposed to infection.

The study authors decided to investigate whether a badger’s living habits played a role. Using collars with transmitters, the team followed the movements of 40 badgers in Gloucestershire, UK. The data allowed the researchers to figure out whether each badger was staying in its group’s main underground den or in one of several less-frequently-used satellite dens. The animals were also tested for bovine TB.

Badgers that tested positive for the disease spent more time at the outlying dens, the study authors report. Using those dens might bring the animals into contact with badgers from other nearby groups more often, increasing their chances of infection. If managers want to control the spread of the disease, they might do well to focus their efforts on these outliers. Roberta Kwok | 20 December 2012

Source: Weber, N. et al. 2012. Denning behaviour of the European badger (Meles meles) correlates with bovine tuberculosis infection status. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology doi: 10.1007/s00265-012-1467-4.

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