Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Highlighting research: red wolf disease

Graduate student Kristin Brzeski was mentioned on our Feb 11th blog on red wolf capturing and processing techniques, and as promised, here are details about her research examining red wolf immunocompetence. Immunocompetence is a fancy way of describing an individual’s ability to defend his or herself against diseases. Because wild red wolves persist in one small population, they are very vulnerable to inbreeding (mating between close relatives). Inbreeding is problematic for many reasons, such as reducing reproductive success, but it can also reduce immunocompetence and affect red wolf disease resistance. Given that disease can contribute to extinction, evaluating red wolf immunocompetence is important for understanding potential threats to the population. Additionally, climate change appears to be shifting the geographic range of diseases, potentially forcing wild red wolves into contact with new pathogens, which they may or may not be able to protect themselves against.

A female wolf with lice has worn down guard hairs on her shoulders from scratching (see the dull U shape on her upper back?). This could make her more susceptible to secondary infections and exposure during winter.
Photo: K. Brzeski 

To better understand red wolves’ immune abilities, Kristin is measuring the prevalence of disease to see if some wolves are better than others at fighting-off pathogens. Interestingly, Kristin and the Red Wolf Recovery Program have detected high levels of lice in the wolf population. If lice are detected on a wolf, biologists treat the individual before he or she is released, this will hopefully relieve itching and let them go-about their wolfy business. Stay tuned for more results from Kristin’s research!


Kristin working with Red Wolf biologist Chris to treat a male wolf infested with lice.
Photo: USFWS

1 comment:

  1. Interesting research. Obviously, another one or two wild populations with some genetic interchange would be highly desirable. Is there any hope of achieving that goal in the not-too-distant future?