Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Biological Sciences

First Advisor

Maarten Vonhof, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Devin Bloom, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Tiffany Schriever, Ph.D.


Chronic wasting disease, disease ecology, white-tailed deer, wildlife disease

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that infects deer and is caused by a pathogenic prion. CWD is a concerning wildlife disease because it is incurable, potentially poses a risk to human health, and is spreading rapidly. CWD prions are transmitted both directly via bodily fluids and indirectly through environmental reservoirs such as soil. In this study, we investigated the influence of land cover and soil characteristics on CWD prevalence in white-tailed deer and mule deer. We acquired CWD prevalence data from seven North American regions and used ArcGIS to obtain land cover and soil characteristic data for each region. We input these environmental variables into a principal component analysis (PCA) to reduce multicollinearity and used the PC scores in generalized linear mixed models with CWD prevalence as the response variable. Our analysis indicated that land cover and soil characteristics explained variation in CWD prevalence in both deer species, and that the observed patterns were largely consistent across deer species and regions. Specifically, agricultural land cover, soil moisture and soil clay content were related to increased CWD prevalence while natural land cover was related to decreased CWD prevalence for both white-tailed deer and mule deer. These results imply that multiple pathways of disease transmission, both direct and indirect, are important in the spread of CWD. Uncovering the relationship between the environment and CWD provides wildlife managers valuable information in effectively controlling disease spread.

Included in

Biology Commons