Europe’s Largest Badger Study Finds Rare Long-Distance Movements of Animals That Often Carry Bovine Tuberculosis

European badgers can make journeys of more than 20 kilometers – distances longer than previously thought – researchers have found. The study, published online on March 6, 2014 in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Animal Ecology, could help scientists design more effective interventions to reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) between badger populations, something that is essential if transmission to cattle is to be controlled. Animal movement is a key part of population ecology, helping us to understand how species use their environment and maintain viable populations. In many territorial species, most movements occur within a home range. Occasionally, however, individuals make long-distance movements. Long-distance movements are important: they ensure that populations mix and do not inbreed, but they can also spread infection between populations. They are also rare, so long-distance movements are difficult to study and require large, long-term studies. Because of their importance as a reservoir for bTB, badgers are a well-studied species. While we know a great deal about how badgers move in and around their home territories, very little is known about rare long-distance movements and nothing about how often badgers travel these long distances. To answer these questions, scientists from Ireland and Canada studied badger movements for four years across a 755 square kilometer area of County Kilkenny in the Republic of Ireland – the largest spatial-scale badger study of its type ever conducted in Europe. Dr. Andrew Byrne of University College Dublin, who led the research while at University College Cork, said: “To study these longer-distance movements, a correspondingly large study area is required.
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