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Inter‐Group Social Behavior, Contact Patterns and Risk for Pathogen Transmission in Cape Buffalo Populations

Wielgus, Elodie and Caron, Alexandre and Bennitt, Emily and De Garine‐Wichatitsky, Michel and Cain, Bradley and Fritz, Herve and Miguel, Eve and Cornélis, Daniel and Chamaillé‐Jammes, Simon (2021) Inter‐Group Social Behavior, Contact Patterns and Risk for Pathogen Transmission in Cape Buffalo Populations. The Journal of Wildlife Management. ISSN 0022-541X

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Abstract

In social species, the transmission and maintenance of infectious diseases depends on the contact patterns between individuals within groups and on the interactions between groups. In southern Africa, the Cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) is a vector for many pathogens that can infect sympatric livestock. Although intra-group contact patterns of Cape buffalo have been relatively well described, how groups interact with each other and risks for pathogen transmission remain poorly understood. We identified and compared spatial behavior and contact patterns between neighboring groups of Cape buffalo under contrasting environments: within the seasonally flooded environment of the Okavango Delta in Botswana and the semi-arid environment of northern Kruger National Park in South Africa. We used telemetry data collected between 2007 and 2015 from 10 distinct groups. We estimated seasonal overlap and proximity between home ranges of pairwise neighboring groups, and we quantified seasonal contact patterns between these groups. We defined contact patterns within variable spatiotemporal windows compatible with the transmission of diseases carried by the Cape buffalo: bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis, and Rift Valley fever (mosquito-borne transmission). We examined the effects of habitat and distance to water on contact location. In both study populations, neighboring buffalo groups were highly spatially segregated in the dry and rainy seasons. Inter-group contact patterns were characterized by very few direct and short-term indirect (within 0–2 days) contacts, lasting on average 1 hour and 2 hours, respectively. Contact patterns were generally consistent across populations and seasons, suggesting species-specific behavior. In the drier study site, the probability of indirect and vector-borne contacts generally decreased during the dry season with increasing distance to water. In the seasonally flooded area, only the probability of vector-borne contact decreased with increasing distance to water. Our results highlight the importance of dry season water availability in influencing the dynamics of indirectly transmitted Cape buffalo pathogens but only in areas with low water availability. The results from this study have important implications for future modeling of pathogen dynamics in a single host, and the ecology and management of Cape buffalo at the landscape level.

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