Funding by the Pennsylvania Game Commission

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal, transmissible disease that affects both captive and free-ranging cervids. The disease is endemic to southwestern Wyoming, north-central Colorado, and western Nebraska, but has been found in Wisconsin and more recently, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. State agencies are responsible for managing white-tailed deer throughout the northeast. Deer behavior can facilitate disease spread, as dispersing males have been documented to move >100 km and philopatry in females can exacerbate direct transmission within matriarchal groups. Certain prion gene alleles are associated with reduced risk of CWD, though none of the prion genotypes characterized in deer are completely protective against infection. Male dispersal distance was greater and genetic admixture was higher for deer in more open than forested landscapes indicating the potential for disease dynamics to differ regionally based on landscape configuration and composition. Using data collected over a broad geographic scale, we would be able to map with considerable detail the landscape genetics of deer. These data would allow us to deduce patterns of potential transmission pathways of CWD, predict admixture between infected and susceptible deer, and delineate potential management actions. To maximize the efficiency of surveillance efforts and to understand the population structure of white-tailed deer in the northeast, landscape genetics of deer in the region needs to be examined. Landscape genetics can provide the necessary framework to understand landscape features, dispersal characteristics of deer, and transmission and spread of CWD through assessment of population structure throughout a region.