How does disease spread in large predators across an ecosystem? How does the structure of a landscape impact disease spread? And how does wildlife management affect the spread of disease? The FELIDAE (Feline Ecology: Landscapes, Infectious Disease, And Epidemics) research project seeks to shed light on these questions. Our mission is to understand the ecology of infectious diseases in wild and domestic felids to inform policies that minimize disease outbreaks in wildlife, domestic animals, and humans.

 

Project Overview

Current Project: NSF-EID Puma Research

In 2014, the NSF Ecology of Infectious Disease Program (NSF-EID 1413925) awarded a five year grant to principal investigators at Colorado State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Tasmania, and the University of California, Davis. The research teams are led by Sue VandeWoude (Colorado State – Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology), Kevin Crooks (Colorado State – Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology), Chris Funk (Colorado State – Biology), Meggan Craft (Minnesota – Veterinary Population Medicine), Scott Carver (Tasmania – Wildlife Ecology), and Holly Ernest (University of Wyoming – Wildlife Genomics and Disease Ecology). The aim of this project is to study how landscape structure and management interventions interact to influence disease spread in heterogeneous landscapes.

At the heart of this project is the apex predator Puma concolor, a large cat in the family Felidae that is better known by a host of different names, including puma, cougar, mountain lion, catamount, and panther. By focusing on the spread of two contact-dependent pathogens – Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Foamy Virus (FFV) – we will build innovative models capable of predicting disease transmission. We will then test these models by analyzing viral samples taken from pumas in geographically distinct populations. In so doing, we will be helping to better understand how diseases spreads across different landscapes, this will contribute to a body of knowledge that may one day limit the spread of disease between wildlife, domestic animals, and humans alike.

Previous Research

In 2007, the NSF Ecology of Infectious Disease Program (NSF-EID 0723676) awarded a five year grant to principal investigators at Colorado State University, led by Sue VandeWoude (Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology) and Kevin Crooks (Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology), to study the effects of urban fragmentation and landscape connectivity on disease prevalence and transmission in North American felids. The project focused on puma (Felis concolor), bobcat (Lynx rufus), and domestic cats (Felis cattus) occurring in divergent ecosystems in California, Colorado, and Florida.

The primary objectives of this project were to:

  • Assess the relationship between habitat fragmentation and prevalence of viral, bacterial, and parasitic pathogens
  • Use transmission dynamics of selected disease agents as markers of connectivity in fragmented populations
  • Evaluate the effect of urbanization on the incidence of cross-species disease transmission.

Outcomes

Outcomes from the FELIDAE Project include:

  • Over 100 abstracts at national and international scientific meetings
  • Over 30 collaborators from over 20 academic, state, federal, and non-profit organizations
  • Over 30 grants to supplement research
  • Over 50 refereed papers in a diversity of scientific journals
  • Training of 7 graduate students, including 3 female, and 8 post-doctoral fellows
  • Support of  11 veterinary students, and 12 undergraduate students
  • Outreach efforts, including public seminars and an ongoing K-12 education project
  • Articles in multiple international, national, and local media outlets