Wetland cover dynamics drive hemorrhagic disease patterns in white-tailed deer in the United States.


While vector-borne diseases are known to be particularly influenced by environmental factors, the impact of land-cover change on vector-borne wildlife disease patterns is poorly understood, largely due to the paucity of data on disease occurrence at extensive spatial and temporal scales. Widespread and rapid anthropogenic land-cover change, especially urbanization, has transformed the US landscape during the last century. Epizootic hemorrhagic disease virus and blue tongue virus, vectored by Culicoides biting midges, are two RNA viruses in the Orbivirus genus that cause severe hemorrhagic disease (HD) in white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). We examine the spatial dynamics of HD affecting white-tailed deer in the contiguous United States in two periods covering 1980 to 2007 in connection with land-cover change over the same time. Using spatial statistical modeling, wetland cover emerges as a critical driver of HD morbidity, whereas the drivers of mortality patterns are more complex. Increasing wetland cover is positively associated with HD morbidity, which is consistent with the ecologic requirements of the Culicoides vector. Wetland cover is inherently dynamic due to its importance to biodiversity and water quality as well as its utility for other purposes when drained. Accordingly this analysis helps in understanding the consequences of changing wetlands on vector-borne disease patterns, to identify disease hotspots in a large landscape, and to forecast the spatial spread of HD and related diseases.

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