Chronic Wasting Disease Drives Population Decline of White-Tailed Deer. Academic Article uri icon


  • Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an invariably fatal transmissible spongiform encephalopathy of white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk, and moose. Despite a 100% fatality rate, areas of high prevalence, and increasingly expanding geographic endemic areas, little is known about the population-level effects of CWD in deer. To investigate these effects, we tested the null hypothesis that high prevalence CWD did not negatively impact white-tailed deer population sustainability. The specific objectives of the study were to monitor CWD-positive and CWD-negative white-tailed deer in a high-prevalence CWD area longitudinally via radio-telemetry and global positioning system (GPS) collars. For the two populations, we determined the following: a) demographic and disease indices, b) annual survival, and c) finite rate of population growth (). The CWD prevalence was higher in females (42%) than males (28.8%) and hunter harvest and clinical CWD were the most frequent causes of mortality, with CWD-positive deer over-represented in harvest and total mortalities. Survival was significantly lower for CWD-positive deer and separately by sex; CWD-positive deer were 4.5 times more likely to die annually than CWD-negative deer while bucks were 1.7 times more likely to die than does. Population was 0.896 (0.859-0.980), which indicated a 10.4% annual decline. We show that a chronic disease that becomes endemic in wildlife populations has the potential to be population-limiting and the strong population-level effects of CWD suggest affected populations are not sustainable at high disease prevalence under current harvest levels.

published proceedings

  • PLoS One

altmetric score

  • 93.68

author list (cited authors)

  • Edmunds, D. R., Kauffman, M. J., Schumaker, B. A., Lindzey, F. G., Cook, W. E., Kreeger, T. J., Grogan, R. G., & Cornish, T. E.

citation count

  • 107

editor list (cited editors)

  • Douglas, M. E.

publication date

  • January 2016