Habitat-related prevalence of macroscopic Mycobacterium bovis infection in brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), Hohonu Range, Westland, New Zealand

Habitat-related prevalence of macroscopic Mycobacterium bovis infection in brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), Hohonu Range, Westland, New Zealand
Peer reviewed

Abstract

AIM: To identify broadscale habitat factors influencing the prevalence of macroscopic Mycobacterium bovis   infection in brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) at a site in Westland, New Zealand.
METHODS: During 1973/74, 1989/90 and 1997, we undertook repeated cross-sectional surveys of M. bovis infection in a possum population on the Hohonu Range , Westland. Data were analysed to determine the influence of site-specific habitat characteristics (land form, aspect, slope, altitude), distance from forest-pasture margin and time since infection on the spatial and temporal prevalence of macroscopic M. bovis infection.
RESULTS: The prevalence of M. bovis infection was highest in 1973/74 (13.4%), compared with 1989/90 (3.1%) and 1997 (9.4%). The prevalence of macroscopic M. bovis infection was significantly influenced by habitat, as indexed by altitude and slope in this study site. Every 100 m increase in elevation was associated with a 29% decrease in the odds of infection, and every 10° increase in slope was associated with a 20% decrease in the odds of infection. For possums caught in the lowland podocarp forest (altitude 100-200 m, average slope=5.7°), the odds of infection were nearly 30-fold higher than those for possums caught in high-altitude hardwood forest near the tree line (altitude 900-1000 m, average slope=28°). Whilst the prevalence of disease fluctuated markedly between surveys, its broadscale spatial distribution changed little over time. Proximity to the forest-pasture margin had no significant influence on the prevalence of disease, once the effect of habitat was taken into account.
CONCLUSION: The prevalence of macroscopic M. bovis infection in possums was strongly influenced by habitat type, being highest in habitats that supported the highest density of possums, and lowest in habitats where population density was low. There was no evidence of progressive spread of M. bovis infection in possums into forest away from pasture-forest margins over the 24-year period of these surveys.
KEY WORDS: Mycobacterium bovis, brushtail possum, Trichosurus vulpecula, epidemiology, modelling, bovine tuberculosis.

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