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Potential Bacillus anthracis risk zones for male bison in southwestern Montana

Abstract

A re-emergence of anthrax, a zoonosis caused by the long-lived, spore-forming Bacillus anthracis, occurred with a multispecies outbreak in southwestern Montana, US in 2008. It substantially impacted a managed herd of about 3,500 free-ranging plains bison (Bison bison bison) on a large, private ranch southwest of Bozeman, with about 8% mortality and a disproportionate 28% mortality of mature males; a similar high rate occurred in male Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus canadensis nelson). Grazing herbivores are particularly at risk for anthrax from ingesting spore-contaminated soil and grasses in persistent environmental reservoirs. We predicted areas of mature male bison habitat preference on the landscape by using GPS collar data and a resource selection function model using environmental covariates. We overlaid preferred areas with ecologic niche, model-based predictions of B. anthracis environmental reservoirs to identify areas of high anthrax risk. Overlapping areas were distributed across the ranch and were not confined to pastures associated with the previous outbreak, suggesting that ongoing pasture exclusion alone will not prevent future outbreaks. The data suggested vaccination campaigns should continue for bison, and the results can be used to prioritize carcass surveillance in areas of greatest overlap.

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