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Our Research

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The Wildlife Futures Program is conducting research that informs disease management strategies for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and other partners. Our research team leads investigations on many different pathogens and threats to wildlife health, including Chronic Wasting Disease and West Nile Virus. As a team of researchers with diverse areas of expertise in multiple fields, our personnel regularly contribute to research projects conducted at other institutions. In addition to the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Penn State University, we also partner with other universities, state, and federal agencies, in our mission to understand, prevent, prepare and mitigate threats to wildlife health.

Our Current Research Initiatives:

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Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD)

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is caused by misfolded prion proteins and is adversely affecting Pennsylvania deer populations and poses a threat to their native elk population. The Wildlife Futures Program is testing field collected and hunter harvested samples for CWD and advising the Pennsylvania Game Commission on best management practices to ensure the health of our native deer population.

In collaboration with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Penn State University, we have recently launched a CWD field project. We are collaring white-tailed deer within an established Disease Management Area (DMA 2) to inform models of disease spread and to understand CWD- associated mortality in Pennsylvania. A major aspect of this work includes continued improvement of diagnostic testing of samples from live animals. This will enable us to know the CWD disease status of collared deer and provide the ability to track them over time. The overarching goals are to improve estimates of CWD prevalence and better understand population level effects of CWD on Pennsylvania deer.

With close ties to Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Lab System’s (PADLS), the Wildlife Futures Program is researching new ways to detect CWD from a diagnostic standpoint. A newer technology, Real-Time Quaking Induced Conversion (RT-QuIC), allows for sensitive and specific identification of CWD prions from ever-increasing sample sources. Sample types can include the current standard for postmortem identification (lymph or brain tissue), but can also include additional, easier to obtain postmortem samples, antemortem samples, and even environmental contamination sources.

Read the Fact Sheet on Chronic Wasting Disease

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Wild Turkey Health in Varying Landscapes

The Wildlife Futures Program has partnered with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Penn State University to conduct the Wild Turkey Project, a multi-year health study on wild turkey populations in Pennsylvania. This project involves the live capture of wild turkeys, obtaining samples for testing, and tagging turkeys with radio transmitters to record their movements, number of poults, and survival.

One objective of the multi-year turkey health study is to determine the prevalence and potential effects of lymphoproliferative disease (LPDV). We are also actively looking for other pathogens such as reticuloendotheliosis virus (REV), avian pox, bacterial pox lesions, intestinal parasites, and the bacteria Mycoplasma gallisepticum. We want to explore the potential link between LPDV and the likelihood that infected turkeys carry or will contract other infections, as well as the broader impact of LPDV on turkey survival and reproduction.

View our Lymphoproliferative Disease Fact Sheet

A bird in the forrest

Effects of West Nile Virus on Wild Bird Populations

In addition to its impacts on humans, West Nile virus poses a risk to many bird species. WFP is conducting research to better understand the effects WNV is having on Pennsylvania birds, while also investigating ecological factors that may further impact populations. Ruffed grouse in Pennsylvania have faced several threats, including West Nile virus, in recent years. We are using citizen science data to develop harvest-independent metrics of grouse abundance in the eastern United States. These data sets and analytical approaches will aid in efforts to continue monitoring the species, and have potential for application to management of other game birds in the region.

View our Fact Sheet on West Nile virus

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CWD Detection by Conservation K9s

Through a proof-of-concept study, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center (PVWDC) and the Wildlife Futures Program have demonstrated that scent-detection dogs can discriminate between the feces of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) positive deer and CWD negative deer.

Wildlife Futures Program's Conservation K9 team consists of 3 dog handlers who have trained 4 dogs to discriminate between CWD positive and CWD negative feces in the environment. These dog- handler teams will assist the Pennsylvania Game Commission in their CWD management program as another tool for field detection and surveillance.