New & Ongoing Projects

CWD-prion accumulation dynamics at bait sites for free-ranging deer

Investigator: Wendy Turner, USGS, University of Wisconsin-Madison 

Funding: USDA APHIS Wildlife Services, Wild Cervid Chronic Wasting Disease Management and Response Activities

Expected Completion: August 31, 2022

Attracting deer with food or minerals to specific locations for the purpose of sport hunting, observation, or tagging is a common practice. CWD-infected deer shed prions into the environment, raising the possibility that bait sites in CWD zones may become “hot spots” of prion deposition. Regulation of deer baiting is inconsistent across jurisdictions, and no empirical data have been reported regarding the impact of deer baiting on prion deposition onto the landscape. The project directly addresses this critical knowledge gap and provides tangible data that can be used to inform regulatory decision making. This project quantifies the extent of prion deposition at former and active bait sites within CWD zones in southern Wisconsin and Tennessee. This will provide insight into environmental transmission risk and for future decisions regarding management regulations and recommendations for deer baiting. 

Influence of chronic wasting disease and predators on deer survival and population dynamics in southwest Wisconsin

Investigator: Wendy Turner, USGS, University of Wisconsin-Madison 

Funding: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Expected Completion: June 30, 2024

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) was discovered in Wisconsin white-tailed deer harvested in fall 2001. Since then, CWD prevalence has increased in all sex and age classes and increased in spatial extent.  For example, in the highest-prevalence areas, prevalence exceeds 30 percent in adult males and 15 percent in adult females.  It is uncertain what impact CWD is currently having on deer populations and what impact it may have as prevalence increases. Not knowing the contribution of CWD, predators, habitat change, or other potential factors makes it difficult to develop an effective management strategy. A better understanding of factors affecting survival and population growth would enable more informed deer population management, by facilitating antlerless quota adjustment in the face of changes in mortality rates from other sources. The goal of this research is to provide technical information, scientific guidance, and related assistance to WDNR scientists and policy makers regarding deer population dynamics in the CWD-endemic region of southwestern Wisconsin. This project is being done in collaboration with Michael Samuel (Senior Scientist University of Wisconsin-Madison), Daniel Storm (Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Rhinelander) and Dan Walsh and Robin Russell (US Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center).

Movement of deer in southwest Wisconsin and its role in CWD spread

Investigator: Wendy Turner, USGS, University of Wisconsin-Madison 

Funding: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Expected Completion: June 30, 2024

This project focuses on the spatiotemporal context of how landscape heterogeneity, seasonality, and deer movement behavior (individually and in aggregate) affect chronic wasting disease (CWD) spread. The goal is to better understand the mechanisms of CWD spread and the causes of the observed directional (rather than uniform) CWD diffusion and growth across the landscape. The project will investigate the impact of CWD infection on deer movement behavior, and the reverse, the impact of deer movement behaviors and contacts on CWD spread.  Understanding the times and places where deer are most likely to congregate and the weather, landscape, phenological and demographic factors that alter movement patterns and direct and indirect contact rates will help predict CWD dynamics and may inform management activities.  Further, better understanding how sex- and age-specific movements and habitat selection vary according to landscape composition and configuration, weather, plant and crop phenology is of interest to ecologists and the general public and may help managers understand variation in deer population dynamics. 

Looking backwards to know where to go: leveraging historical data to guide CWD management

Investigator: Christine A. Ribic and Wendy Turner, USGS, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dan Walsh, USGS, National Wildlife Health Center

Funding: USGS Emerging Diseases

Expected Completion: August 31, 2023

Management of chronic wasting disease (CWD) is one of the most significant challenges facing many wildlife agencies in North America.  One of the difficulties in managing this disease is that CWD-affected species range across jurisdictional boundaries; yet currently there is little communication or coordination among management agencies regarding CWD response. Unified efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of the suite of management actions that agencies have applied for disease control are lacking. This project is aimed at filling these gaps by leveraging historical information maintained by state agencies to evaluate impacts of CWD management activities on population and disease dynamics and establishing a framework that will improve coordination and information exchange. This framework will serve as the basis for the creation of an adaptive management strategy for CWD mitigation among Midwestern, state and federal, wildlife management agencies. The objectives of this project are to investigate the impacts of deer harvest regulations on the realized harvest within and between states in the Midwest, tie the  analytical results to CWD dynamics to determine the harvest regulations most likely to have the desired outcome for managing CWD,  and plan an adaptive management workshop for participating state agencies to effectively use the results of the modeling effort regarding harvest strategies.

Transmission and Evolution of a Persistent Pathogen: Anthrax Infection Dynamics Comparing Two Natural Systems

Investigators: Wendy C. Turner, USGS, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Pauline L. Kamath, University of Maine, Orono

Funding: National Science Foundation, Division of Environmental Biology, Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program

Expected Completion: July 31, 2022

Anthrax is a globally distributed disease of wildlife, livestock, and humans. Successful prediction of and response to outbreaks of anthrax is limited by a lack of understanding of the geographic differences in the ecology of the pathogen as well as the pattern of disease outbreaks. This project investigates the roles of host, pathogen, and environment to understand how the pathogen-host interaction evolves and contributes to the differences in anthrax occurrence between two study areas: Etosha National Park, Namibia, and Kruger National Park, South Africa. The project builds on detailed records of disease and population dynamics in each park as well as archived pathogen samples and new data collection and analyses and mathematical modeling to understand these different dynamics. We are linking variability in B. anthracis genomes to phenotype (i.e., pathogen survival in the environment, virulence to hosts, and transmission across host and geographic range). We are identifying host immunological signatures of infection and genes under pathogen-mediated selection in four species: plains zebra (Equus quagga), greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros), blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) and common impala (Aepyceros melampus). We are building landscape-level models of epidemiology and population dynamics incorporating host movement, transmission routes, pathogen virulence, and host resistance. Finally, we will develop models predicting anthrax transmission dynamics across ecosystems. In a broader sense, this research will facilitate the development of predictive tools to better manage public health and related policies for complex, multi-host zoonotic diseases such as anthrax. 

A Retrospective Analysis of California Spotted Owl Territory Occupancy in Southern California

Investigator: M. Zachariah Peery, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Funding: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Expected Completion: December 31, 2022

Spotted owls reside at the epicenter of forest management debates in the western US. The current status of the southern California spotted owl population is not well understood following the end of our demographic study in the San Bernardino Mountains in 1998. However, semi-regular occupancy surveys have been conducted since that time that include most, if not all, of the territories surveyed as part of the original demography study. This project will analyze spotted owl occupancy data, spanning a 32-year period (1988 to 2019), to address determine the current territory occupancy rate of California spotted owls in the San Bernardino Mountains, the trend in the territory occupancy rate from 1998 to 2019, and how territory occupancy has been affected by factors such as habitat loss due to wildfire and fuels treatments.

A bat skin model to identify therapeutic approaches that enhance fungal recognition and augment innate immune response to white-nose syndrome

Investigators: Bruce Klein, School of Veterinary Medicine, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Funding:  U.S. Geological Survey (National Wildlife Health Center) 

Completion: November 30, 2022

The introduced fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd) infects the skin of little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) of North America, killing them by the millions due to WNS1. Keratinocytes represent 95% of the epidermal cells in skin and are the first barrier against microbes in bats, secreting antifungal peptides and cytokines, recruiting leukocytes, and initiating adaptive immunity 2–5. The goal of this project is to define how keratinocytes detect Pd compared to a non-pathogenic cutaneous fungus Trichophyton rendellii (Tr) 6 in order to develop a method of topical immunization against WNS. We hypothesize that keratinocytes detect the two fungi differently, driving distinct innate immune responses that are, in part, responsible for different infection outcomes. During hibernation bats become torpid and immune quiescent with periodic arousal and immune activation 7–9. Despite such immune restriction, hibernating little brown bats do clear infection by native, Pd-like, ascomycete fungi such as Tr 6. Although innate immune response is upregulated in the skin of WNS bats, this response is insufficient to halt Pd invasion of skin. There are remarkably similar paradigms involving human fungal infections. In chromoblastomycosis, a chronic, severe skin fungal infection caused by a Pd-like ascomycete Fonsecaea pedrosoi, innate immune recognition by a pattern recognition receptor (PRR) called Mincle is weak and insufficient to clear the fungus10. Yet, engagement of a second PRR, TLR7, together with Mincle clears the fungus. Chromoblastomycosis can thus be treated successfully by cutaneous application of Imiquimod® cream, which promotes Mincle and TLR7 co-receptor engagement and resolution of infection10,11. Based on this paradigm, we propose that understanding how keratinocytes recognize and respond to Pd (as compared to non-pathogenic Tr) will enable a rational basis for developing a preventive strategy to bolster innate immunity in hibernating bats, enabling them to resist infection with Pd.  We have 3 specific aims: 1) Identify the PRR(s) that recognize Pd using reporter cells and validate results with bat keratinocytes; 2) Compare the innate response of keratinocytes on interaction to Pd and Tr; 3) Test commercial PRR ligands that trigger, together with Pd, an augmented innate response in bat keratinocytes (in vitro) and on little brown bats (in vivo).

Finding safe haven in a warming world: Microclimatic buffering in grasslands and its influence on threatened birds

Investigator: Benjamin Zuckerberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Christine A. Ribic, USGS, University of Wisconsin-Madison 

Funding: USDA Hatch Formula Funds

Expected Completion: September 30, 2023

Many species and ecosystems are vulnerable to a rapidly changing climate, and the most effective route for reducing this vulnerability is through climate-change adaptation. A common adaptation strategy is to increase the resistance of ecosystems by maintaining or creating climate change refugia. In modern conservation, the concept of refugia applies to areas characterized by local climatic conditions (i.e., microclimates) that persist despite widespread changes at regional and global scales. Landscape features, such as topographic complexity, promote a diversity of cool and warm microclimates considered important for “buffering” refugial populations during periods of rapid climate change and even reduce extinction risk for climate-sensitive species. If microclimate buffering reduces the vulnerability of species from the negative consequences of climate change, then identifying and managing the features that promote microclimate diversity is a critical complement of conserving threatened ecosystems. Prairies were once widespread across North America (Samson et al. 1998), but are now one of the most endangered and least protected ecosystems in the world. Agriculture and residential development have reduced once extensive prairies into a patchwork of “surrogate” grasslands consisting of hayfields and grazing pastures. Concurrent with habitat loss, rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns are disproportionately affecting temperate grasslands. Many temperate grasslands are in low-lying regions, and as a result, the pace of modern climate change has been fastest in open habitats compared to any other terrestrial biome in the world. The degradation of grassland ecosystems has been detrimental to its fauna, including many grassland birds that are declining faster than any other bird guild across North America (Sauer et al. 2012). In response to the widespread population declines of many grassland birds, conservation agencies employ a number of strategies such as maintaining large grasslands, land acquisition, and promoting restoration practices, but little work has addressed the importance of climate-change adaptation in the conservation of grassland birds. Given the ongoing loss of grassland habitat, adaptation strategies will likely need to focus on building the resilience of existing grasslands for maintaining current and future biodiversity in a warming world. Herein, we propose a novel, multi-scaled quantification of microclimates within grassland fragments and evaluate their importance on the nesting biology of declining grassland bird populations. By exploring the drivers of microclimates in remnant grasslands, we offer a unique empirical evaluation of how microclimatic buffering influences the demography and distribution of grassland-dependent species.

Estimating grassland bird populations to inform landscape-level conservation in Wisconsin

Investigator: Benjamin Zuckerberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Christine A. Ribic, USGS, University of Wisconsin-Madison 

Funding: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Expected Completion: April 3, 2023

A primary goal of the Upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes Joint Venture (UMRGL JV) is to “strive for sustainable populations of all birds through regionally coordinated conservation actions based on the best (or state-of-the-art) scientific information and techniques available.” To achieve this goal, accurate and unbiased bird population estimates are needed. Flawed inferences about population status can waste limited resources or prevent managers from recognizing when populations are vulnerable. Thus, the need for robust population estimates is apparent. The goal of this project is to provide an assessment of Partners-In-Flight (PIF) population estimates in comparison to those derived from Wisconsin’s 2nd BBA point-count project, and to integrate Breeding Bird Atlas (BBA) and Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data for analysis of Wisconsin’s grasslands as well as to predict population estimates to the entire UMRGL JV region. We will use Wisconsin’s BBA point-count data to build species-specific hierarchical models that incorporate habitat and detection covariates to derive population estimates for 20 species that vary in their abundance and breeding habitat and compare PIF and our BBA derived estimates for all focal species, construct a shared model that integrates BBA and BBS data and compares those estimates to both “single” (BBS only and BBA only) data estimates, demonstrate the applicability of our shared model to determine the importance of three focal grassland landscapes in Wisconsin for two “umbrella” grassland species, and estimate population size for the 20 species across the UMRGL region using BBA data from three states (MN, OH, WI) that have at least two years of BBA point-count data, and BBS data from all states within the UMRGL JV region.

Understanding the Importance of the Landscape Scale for Wildlife Management in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest and Developing Best Practices for Archiving Research Data

Investigators: Christine A. Ribic, USGS, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 

Funding: US Forest Service

Expected Completion: June 30, 2023

We are working collaboratively with the US Forest Service Northern Research Station to (1) evaluate two long-term projects: amphibian use of ephemeral ponds and wetlands within forested systems and beaver colony activity along trout streams and (2) investigate archiving and presentation of data sets used for analysis and high impact data collections. For the long-term projects, we will evaluate the datasets and determine additional environmental and spatial variables required to address management concerns. Once evaluation is completed, we will retrieve identified environmental (e.g., water quality, climate data) and spatial (e.g., surrounding land cover/use of surrounding landscape) data and incorporate all data into a GIS.  We will calculate landscape metrics identified in the conceptual model and analyze both data sets. Other areas of research of interest to the Forest will also be developed, such as Kirtland’s Warbler management and the use of fire to restore pine barrens ecosystems.  

Besides the data used in the analysis, high impact USFS data collections will be archived. We will work with the US Forest Service to develop protocols and standards for archiving research data collected by the US Forest Service Research & Development branch. The primary focus of this work is on historical data collected on the Experimental Forest System, with additional sub-projects coming from any of the Research Stations or the International Institute of Tropical Forestry. We propose to process the historical record of at least seven Experimental Forests, and identify at least 15 data sets for archiving. Formal metadata will be created to document each data set, along with other descriptive material as appropriate for the particular data set. As appropriate, we will also engage in the administrative deposit activities associated with an OAIS-compliant data repository. 

Strategies for reducing the vulnerability of grassland birds to climate change within the Central Flyway 

Investigator: Benjamin Zuckerberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Christine A. Ribic, USGS, University of Wisconsin-Madison 

Funding: USGS National Climate Adaptation Science Center

Expected Completion: August 31, 2022

Prairies were once widespread across North America, but are now one of the most endangered and least protected ecosystems in the world. Agriculture and residential development have reduced once extensive prairies into a patchwork of remnant prairies and “surrogate” grasslands (e.g., hayfields, planted pastures). Concurrent with habitat loss, rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns are disproportionately affecting temperate grasslands. The degradation of grassland ecosystems has been detrimental to its fauna, including many grassland birds that are declining faster than any other bird guild across North America. In response to the widespread population declines of many grassland birds, conservation agencies employ a number of strategies such as maintaining large grasslands, funding land acquisition, and promoting prairie restoration, but little work has addressed the importance of climate-change adaptation in the conservation of grassland birds. To incorporate climate-change adaptation into grassland conservation, we will conduct a synthesis of climate change vulnerability for grassland ecosystems and grassland-dependent birds within the Central Flyway. Our goal is to produce a synthesis of strategies for grassland managers interested in developing climate adaptation plans. In doing so, we will i) organize a steering committee to identify current strategies in grassland management and priority grassland birds of conservation concern; ii) conduct a literature review and survey of our steering committee to describe the state of scientific knowledge on climate change impacts on grassland habitats and grassland-dependent birds; and iii) organize a meeting to produce a scientific review of current and future adaptation strategies for the conservation of grassland ecosystems and grassland-dependent birds.