Demographic buffering and compensatory recruitment promotes the persistence of disease in a wildlife population.
Bailey, Trevor C.
Hodgson, David J.
Copyright © 2016 The Authors Ecology Letters published by CNRS and John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Demographic buffering allows populations to persist by compensating for fluctuations in vital rates, including disease-induced mortality. Using long-term data on a badger (Meles meles Linnaeus, 1758) population naturally infected with Mycobacterium bovis, we built an integrated population model to quantify impacts of disease, density and environmental drivers on survival and recruitment. Badgers exhibit a slow life-history strategy, having high rates of adult survival with low variance, and low but variable rates of recruitment. Recruitment exhibited strong negative density-dependence, but was not influenced by disease, while adult survival was density independent but declined with increasing prevalence of diseased individuals. Given that reproductive success is not depressed by disease prevalence, density-dependent recruitment of cubs is likely to compensate for disease-induced mortality. This combination of slow life history and compensatory recruitment promotes the persistence of a naturally infected badger population and helps to explain the badger's role as a persistent reservoir of M. bovis.
UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
First published: 11 February 2016