Population genetics approaches are becoming widely used to assess the propagation potential of wildlife diseases. Such studies are often conducted on uninfected hosts because acute zoonotic diseases pose significant health risks to humans and infected hosts are thus more difficult to obtain. Predictions of disease spread potential assume that infected and uninfected individuals exhibit similar movement behaviours and genotypes. However, some diseases, such as rabies, might enhance individual's dispersal behaviour. Thus, if rabid animals are mostly long-distance migrants, prediction of rabies spread potential based on genetic analyses of uninfected animals might be misleading. Here, we genotyped 84 rabid and 113 nonrabid raccoons (Procyon lotor) to assess whether a difference in genetic structure pattern could be detected between these groups in a rabies epizootic area in southern Quebec, Canada. We also assessed whether genetic diversity differs among rabid and nonrabid raccoons by comparing expected heterozygosity, allelic richness, and inbreeding coefficient of the 2 groups. Finally, we tested for possible associations between rabies infection and microsatellite genotypes. We found no evidence of genetic structuring and no difference in genetic diversity among nonrabid and rabid raccoons. We also have limited evidence for a link between genotype and infection status. Our results thus suggest that the genetic structure of nonrabid raccoons is representative of that found in infected individuals and is thus effective to infer rabies propagation patterns in the wild.
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Vol. 20 • No. 4