Social networks and transmission of facial tumour disease in Tasmanian devils (#665)
Directly transmissible diseases are a major threat to conservation efforts, particularly in species restricted to one or a few linked populations where a virulent strain can quickly spread throughout an entire network (e.g. Wyatt et al. 2008; Kundu et al. 2012). In such situations, population-level social structures, as well as contact networks within populations, have direct consequences for the transmission of infectious diseases (Hamede et al. 2009; Rushmore et al. 2013). Knowledge of these networks is crucial for understanding the epidemiology of infectious diseases and accurately predicting and mitigating their spread (Grange et al. 2014; Rushmore et al. 2014). Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) are under severe threat as a result of a novel, contagious cancer, (Hawkins et al. 2006) which is spread between individuals by biting (Hamede et al. 2013) and is almost invariably fatal (McCallum et al. 2009). As part of an ongoing study we are investigating contact networks in a wild, disease free, Tasmanian devil population and relating networks to bite wounds received by individuals on an ongoing basis. Proximity collars allow recording of contacts between devils at a distance close enough (within 30cm) for them to bite one another, while through long-term re-trapping of individuals we are able to detect when animals actually pick up new bite wounds. When investigated in tandem, these facets allow determination of which network properties are important for disease transmission and can lead to an altered risk of infection at the individual level.
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