Wildlife hosts are important reservoirs of a wide range of human and livestock infections worldwide, and in some instances, wildlife populations are threatened by disease. Yet wildlife diseases are difficult to monitor, and we often lack an understanding of basic epidemiological parameters that might inform disease management and the design of targeted interventions. The impacts of disease on host survival are generally associated with age, yet traditional epidemiological models tend to use simplistic categories of host age. Mortality trajectory analysis provides the opportunity to understand age-specific impacts of disease and uncover epidemiological patterns across complete life histories. Here, we use Bayesian survival trajectory analysis (BaSTA) software to analyse capture-mark-recapture data from a population of wild badgers Meles meles
naturally infected with Mycobacterium bovis
, the causative agent of tuberculosis in badgers and cattle. We reveal non-constant mortality trajectories, and show that infection exaggerates an age-dependent increase in late-life mortality. This study provides evidence for actuarial senescence in badgers, a species previously believed to display constant mortality throughout life. Our case study demonstrates the application of mortality trajectory analysis in wildlife disease research, but also highlights important limitations. We recommend BaSTA for mortality trajectory analysis in epidemiological research, but also suggest combining approaches that can include diagnostic uncertainty and the movement of hosts between disease states as they age. We recommend future combinations of multi-state and multi-event modelling frameworks for complex systems incorporating age-varying disease states.
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