Free-ranging caribou and moose populations in some regions of Alaska undergo periodic declines in numbers. Caribou and moose are managed by the state as valuable resources for not only sustenance and subsistence, but also for cultural heritage. Incidence and prevalence of diseases that may impact herd health and recruitment from year to year are relevant to management decisions aimed to protect the long-term viability of these herds. Neospora caninum and Toxoplasma gondii are two apicomplexan parasites that can cause neurologic disease and abortions in their intermediate hosts and less frequently cause disease in their definitive hosts. The definitive hosts of N. caninum and T. gondii are canids and felids, respectively, and prevalence in the environment is in part dependent on maintenance of the life cycle through the definitive hosts. Serum samples from caribou (Rangifer tarandus, n=453), wolf (Canis lupus, n=324), moose (Alces alces, n=201), black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus, n=55), coyote (Canis latrans, n=12), and fox (Vulpes vulpes, n=9) collected in Alaska were assayed for N. caninum– and T. gondii–reactive antibodies with an immunofluorescent antibody test (IFAT) and a modified agglutination test (MAT), respectively. Seroprevalence of N. caninum was greater in caribou (11.5%) than in wolves (9.0%), moose (0.5%), or black-tailed deer (0%). Seroprevalence of T. gondii was greater in wolves (17.8%) than in caribou (0.4%), moose (0%), or black-tailed deer (0%). Seroprevalence of N. caninum and T. gondii were 16.7% and 0.0% in coyotes and 0.0% and 12.5% in fox, but small sample sizes prevented further analysis. Antibodies to N. caninum in young caribou compared to adult caribou suggest that vertical transmission may be an important component of new infections in Alaskan caribou. The spatial distribution of antibody-positive individuals across Alaska may reflect differences in frequency of definitive hosts and alteration of predation patterns among regions.
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Vol. 46 • No. 2