Starting this summer, researchers from Colorado State University will study how often bobcats, mountain lions and domestic cats bump into each other in Boulder as part of a five-year, $2.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation to identify the dynamics of infectious diseases among wild cats and domestic pets.
Dr. Sue VandeWoude, a Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, and Dr. Kevin Crooks, an Associate Professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, are collecting samples and monitoring movement behavior of different cat species in divergent habitats in Colorado, Florida and California as a way to see a day-in-the-life of a cat.
"We know that these species’ habitats are impacted by urban development; what we don’t know yet is how that 'pile-up,' or restriction of home ranges near urban boundaries, impacts disease transmission among these populations,” said Dr. VandeWoude, principal investigator on the study. “We suspect that the kinds of pathogens these animals share and the rate of infection changes as these species are forced to live in closer proximity."
The scientists are looking for trends between disease dynamics and urban fragmentation among feline species in high-density places such as Los Angeles and Boulder compared to more rural areas. Ultimately, they hope to understand the relationship between urbanization and the prevalence of disease transmission within and between cat species. Habitat fragmentation has been targeted as one of the most serious threats to biological diversity worldwide; urbanization is a leading agent of fragmentation and cause of species endangerment.
Dr. VandeWoude's lab specializes in the study of a common feline disease, feline immunodeficiency virus, or FIV, which creates a lifelong infection and can be fatal to animals. Bobcats, pumas and domestic cats each have their own specific FIV strain. Dr. VandeWoude will look at how multiple infectious diseases may spread among different cat populations or change based on close contact through sharing habitat.
Researchers are mapping movements of cats from GPS collars placed on the animals, as well as using remote camera data to photograph cat behavior and location. Last summer, one of Dr. Crooks’ graduate students, Jesse Lewis, set out 40 motion-activated cameras in a 160-square-kilometer rural study area outside Montrose on the Uncompahgre Plateau on Colorado’s Western Slope. During the course of a three-month period, he found that bobcats, pumas and domestic cats crossed paths quite often.
CSU researchers will set out another 40 motion-activated cameras this summer west of urban Boulder that will capture photos of bobcats and any other wildlife that passes by, as well as collar bobcats and domestic cats with GPS devices to track movement.
Fellow collaborators on this project include Drs. Michael Lappin and Mo Salman in the Department of Clinical Sciences, and colleagues at the Colorado Division of Wildlife, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, National Institutes of Health, University of California-Davis and the University of Florida.