Year of Publication

2009

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Document Type

Thesis

College

Agriculture

Department

Forestry

First Advisor

Dr. John J. Cox

Second Advisor

Dr. Michael J. Lacki

Abstract

Elk (Cervus elaphus) were historically present throughout Kentucky, but were extirpated by the mid 19th century. Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources initiated elk reintroduction efforts in 1997, resulting in a self-sustaining population. I designed this project to study the effects of a parasitic nematode, meningeal worm (Parelaphostrongylus tenuis), on Kentucky’s elk herd. I examined potential maternal transfer of P. tenuis antibodies to elk calves, and investigated the relationship between elk habitat use and meningeal worm infection. I captured neonatal elk in 2004-06, fitted them with VHF transmitters, and collected blood samples for an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) to determine P. tenuis infection. I monitored animals to determine habitat use, and attempted to recapture each individual to collect a follow-up blood sample. I found substantial rates of maternal meningeal worm antibody transfer (55%) over the course of the study. Neither sex nor predicted birth weight was associated with increased likelihood of obtaining maternal antibodies. Habitat variables associated with P. tenuis infection included herbaceous, shrub, and bare cover types, herbaceous mean core area, forest edge density, and forest mean core area. Confounding variables complicated habitat data analysis, but high rates of maternal P. tenuis antibody transmission suggested that meningeal worm infection does not threaten the long-term viability of the Kentucky elk herd.

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