Spatial Dynamics of Chronic Wasting Disease in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Meghan Hills
Susan Clark
Start Date: 
May, 2019

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) poses a serious threat to elk and deer populations across North America. Developing an understanding of CWD’s spatial occurrence and potential for spread within and around the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) requires immediate attention. To this end, I will be working under the supervision of Prof. Os Schmitz on a research project that centers on a spatial analysis of CWD within the three U.S. states — WY, MT, and ID — that contain the GYE. Statistical analyses will be used to link spatial data on environmental factors (e.g., landforms, veg, habitat suitability, land use, climate) to: (a) CWD incidence, and (b) spatial occurrence/abundance of wildlife species (esp. elk and deer) susceptible to the disease. These analyses will reveal how wildlife abundance and CWD incidence are associated with environmental conditions across the region, and this information can then be used to identify locations in and around the GYE where CWD does not yet exist but for which the environmental conditions appear favorable for its spread. Project analyses and results will be mapped with geospatial software (probably primarily ArcGIS), and the maps created will offer a spatial overview of CWD occurrence and a projection of tri-state area locations into which CWD is more and less likely to spread. The maps will also serve to put results of this research into a format that encourages their incorporation into decision-making processes and management arenas of the GYE.