Scientists found that badgers which strayed away from the family burrow in favour of sleeping in outlying dens were more likely to carry TB.
The 12-month study of 40 wild badgers was funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and could have implications for the management of bovine TB in parts of the UK. The behaviour of individual animals is thought to be a key factor in how the disease is spread among animals and livestock. The new findings could help to understand and develop measures to manage TB in badgers.
The study is published online on December 19 2012 in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. The work was carried out by Dr Nicola Weber of the University of Exeter's Cornwall Campus, who said: "At a time when stopping the spread of TB is vital for British farming, it's crucial to understand all of the factors involved in the transmission of the disease. Our research found that some individual badgers are more likely to sleep in setts in the outskirts of their territory. These individuals may be coming into contact with other sources of infection more frequently, meaning they could be more likely to both contract and to spread the disease, either to other badgers or to cattle."
Dr Weber attached electronic surveillance collars to badgers from eight groups at Woodchester Park in Gloucestershire, where the badger population is naturally infected with TB. Scientists selected a sample of 40 badgers from across the groups to provide a representative sample of age and sex.
In the study, each group had a territory made up of one or two main setts, which are used as the primary year-round underground den. They also had between three and eight outlying setts, which were occupied less frequently. The badgers were monitored for 28 consecutive days per season for one year to investigate how patterns differed between individuals.
Professor Robbie McDonald of the University
University of Exeter