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Harvesting can increase severity of wildlife disease epidemics.

Abstract

Theoretical studies of wildlife population dynamics have proved insightful for sustainable management, where the principal aim is to maximize short-term yield, without risking population extinction. Surprisingly, infectious diseases have not been accounted for in harvest models, which is a major oversight because the consequences of parasites for host population dynamics are well-established. Here, we present a simple general model for a host species subject to density dependent reproduction and seasonal demography. We assume this host species is subject to infection by a strongly immunizing, directly transmitted pathogen. In this context, we show that the interaction between density dependent effects and harvesting can substantially increase both disease prevalence and the absolute number of infectious individuals. This effect clearly increases the risk of cross-species disease transmission into domestic and livestock populations. In addition, if the disease is associated with a risk of mortality, then the synergistic interaction between hunting and disease-induced death can increase the probability of host population extinction.

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