The wildlife of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem carries brucellosis, which was first introduced to the area by cattle in the 19th century. Brucellosis transmission between wildlife and livestock has been difficult to study due to challenges in culturing the causative agent, Brucella abortus. We examined B. abortus transmission between American bison (Bison bison), Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus nelsoni), and cattle (Bos taurus) using variable number tandem repeat (VNTR) markers on DNA from 98 B. abortus isolates recovered from populations in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, US. Our analyses reveal interspecies transmission. Two outbreaks (2007, 2008) in Montana cattle had B. abortus genotypes similar to isolates from both bison and elk. Nevertheless, similarity in elk and cattle isolates from the 2008 outbreak suggest that elk are the likely source of brucellosis transmission to cattle in Montana and Wyoming. Brucella abortus isolates from sampling in Montana appear to be divided in two clusters: one found in local Montana elk, cattle, and bison; and another found mainly in elk and a bison from Wyoming, which is consistent with brucellosis having entered Montana via migration of infected elk from Wyoming. Our findings illustrate complex patterns of brucellosis transmission among elk, bison, and cattle as well as the utility of VNTRs to infer the wildlife species of origin for disease outbreaks in livestock.
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Vol. 53 • No. 2