Tom Habib

Ecology and management of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and mule deer (O. hemionus) of east-central Alberta in relation to chronic wasting disease

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal pathogen affecting white-tailed and mule deer in east-central Alberta, and I addressed two current limitations of CWD management. First, to improve precision and accuracy of density estimates obtained from aerial surveys, I evaluated alternative survey designs and developed a model to correct for undetected deer due to low snow cover, small group sizes, and deer inactivity. Surveys stratified by resource selection functions showed the greatest improvement in precision compared to currently employed designs. Second, I addressed how density and landscape features affect contact rates among deer, a major component of CWD transmission. Contact rates increased as a saturating function of density, and were highest in regions where deer habitat was limited. My results will allow managers to better plan and evaluate management actions such as herd reductions, and underscore the need for developing spatially-explicit models to understand CWD spread in heterogeneous environments.

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