Brucellosis, caused by bacteria in the genus Brucella, is an infectious zoonosis affecting animals and humans worldwide. Free-ranging Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus canadensis nelsoni) and bison (Bison bison) in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (areas of southwestern Montana, eastern Idaho, and northwestern Wyoming, US) are the self-sustaining reservoirs of bovine brucellosis (Brucella abortus) and elk are considered the primary source of livestock infections. It has been hypothesized that Brucella-exposed elk might have different physiologic status (pregnancy rates and body condition) and migration behaviors than would healthy elk. Here we tested the effects of brucellosis serologic status on pregnancy rates and winter ingesta free body fat of 100 female elk in southwestern Montana. We also evaluated the effects of serologic status on two characteristics of spring migration behavior, migration types (migrant, mixed migrant, resident, disperser, nomad, and undetermined type) and timing (start and end dates and duration). The migration behaviors were quantified using a model-driven approach based on the relative net squared displacement. We detected a significant difference (P=0.003) in pregnancy rates between seropositive and seronegative elk, with about a 30% drop in seropositive individuals. However, we did not detect differences in body fat between seropositive and seronegative elk or differences in either migration type or timing of spring migration. These results confirmed that the major effect of brucellosis in free-ranging elk is associated with reproduction.
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Vol. 55 • No. 2