Spatio-temporal analyses reveal infectious disease-driven selection in a free-ranging ungulate

Melanie E.F. Lacava, Jennifer L. Malmberg, William H. Edwards, Laura N.L. Johnson, Samantha E. Allen, Holly B. Ernest

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Infectious diseases play an important role in wildlife population dynamics by altering individual fitness, but detecting disease-driven natural selection in free-ranging populations is difficult due to complex disease-host relationships. Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal infectious prion disease in cervids for which mutations in a single gene have been mechanistically linked to disease outcomes, providing a rare opportunity to study disease-driven selection in wildlife. In Wyoming, USA, CWD has gradually spread across mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) populations, producing natural variation in disease history to evaluate selection pressure. We used spatial variation and a novel temporal comparison to investigate the relationship between CWD and a mutation at codon 225 of the mule deer prion protein gene that slows disease progression. We found that individuals with the 'slow' 225F allele were less likely to test positive for CWD, and the 225F allele was more common in herds exposed to CWD longer. We also found that in the past 2 decades, the 225F allele frequency increased more in herds with higher CWD prevalence. This study expanded on previous research by analysing spatio-temporal patterns of individual and herd-based disease data to present multiple lines of evidence for disease-driven selection in free-ranging wildlife.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number210802
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Cervid
  • Chronic wasting disease
  • Natural selection
  • Odocoileus hemionus
  • Prion protein gene
  • Wildlife disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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