Patterns and processes of pathogen exposure in gray wolves across North America

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Patterns and processes of pathogen exposure in gray wolves across North America


The presence of many pathogens varies in a predictable manner with latitude, with infections decreasing from the equator towards the poles. We investigated the geographic trends of pathogens infecting a widely distributed carnivore: the gray wolf (Canis lupus). Specifically, we investigated which variables best explain and predict geographic trends in seroprevalence across North American wolf populations and the implications of the underlying mechanisms. We compiled a large serological dataset of nearly 2000 wolves from 17 study areas, spanning 80° longitude and 50° latitude. Generalized linear mixed models were constructed to predict the probability of seropositivity of four important pathogens: canine adenovirus, herpesvirus, parvovirus, and distemper virus—and two parasites: Neospora caninum and Toxoplasma gondii. Canine adenovirus and herpesvirus were the most widely distributed pathogens, whereas N. caninum was relatively uncommon. Canine parvovirus and distemper had high annual variation, with western populations experiencing more frequent outbreaks than eastern populations. Seroprevalence of all infections increased as wolves aged, and denser wolf populations had a greater risk of exposure. Probability of exposure was positively correlated with human density, suggesting that dogs and synanthropic animals may be important pathogen reservoirs. Pathogen exposure did not appear to follow a latitudinal gradient, with the exception of N. caninum. Instead, clustered study areas were more similar: wolves from the Great Lakes region had lower odds of exposure to the viruses, but higher odds of exposure to N. caninum and T. gondii; the opposite was true for wolves from the central Rocky Mountains. Overall, mechanistic predictors were more informative of seroprevalence trends than latitude and longitude. Individual host characteristics as well as inherent features of ecosystems determined pathogen exposure risk on a large scale. This work emphasizes the importance of biogeographic wildlife surveillance, and we expound upon avenues of future research of cross-species transmission, spillover, and spatial variation in pathogen infection.

Bibliographic Citation

Brandell, E.E., P. C. Cross, M. E. Craft, D. W. Smith, E. J. Dubovi, M. L. Gilbertson, T. Wheeldon, J. A. Stephenson, S. Barber-Meyer, B. L. Borg, and M. Sorum. 2021. Patterns and processes of pathogen exposure in gray wolves across North America. Scientific reports 11(1):1-14.


Brandell, Ellen E.
Cross, Paul C.
Craft, Meggan E.
Smith, Douglas W.
Dubovi, Edward J.
Gilbertson, Marie L. J.


Ecological epidemiology


14 pages







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Scientific reports

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Brandell, Ellen E. et al., “Patterns and processes of pathogen exposure in gray wolves across North America,” CPW Digital Collections, accessed February 27, 2024,