Estimating chronic wasting disease effects on mule deer recruitment and population growth

Jessie Dulberger, N. Thompson Hobbs, Heather M. Swanson, Chad J. Bishop, Michael W. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Chronic wasting disease (CWD), a prion disease of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), accelerates mortality and in so doing has the potential to influence population dynamics. Although effects on mule deer survival are clear, how CWD affects recruitment is less certain. We studied how prion infection influenced the number of offspring raised to weaning per adult (≥2 yr old) female mule deer and subsequently the estimated growth rate (λ) of an infected deer herd. Infected and presumably uninfected radio-collared female deer were observed with their fawns in late summer (August - September) during three consecutive years (2006 - 2008) in the Table Mesa area of Boulder, Colorado, USA. We counted the number of fawns accompanying each female, then used a fully Bayesian model to estimate recruitment by infected and uninfected females and the effect of the disease on X. On average, infected females weaned 0.95 fawns (95% credible interval=0.56 - 1.43) whereas uninfected females weaned 1.34 fawns (95% credible interval= 1.09 -1.61); the probability that uninfected females weaned more fawns than infected females was 0.93). We used estimates of prevalence to weight recruitment and survival parameters in the transition matrix of a three-age, single-sex matrix model and then used the matrix to calculate effects of CWD on λ. When effects of CWD on both survival and recruitment were included, the modeled λ was 0.97 (95% credible interval = 0.82 - 1.09). Effects of disease on λ were mediated almost entirely by elevated mortality of infected animals. We conclude that although CWD may affect mule deer recruitment, these effects seem to be sufficiently small that they can be omitted in estimating the influences of CWD on population growth rate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1086-1095
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Wildlife Diseases
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2010


  • Chronic wasting disease
  • Mule deer
  • Odocoileus hemionus
  • Population growth rate
  • Prion
  • Recruitment
  • Survival


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