A Scoping Review of the Rangifer tarandus Infectious Disease Literature: Gap between Information and Application

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Filip Rakic
Mathieu Pruvot
Douglas Whiteside
Susan Kutz
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The role and impact of infectious diseases in wildlife population dynamics are increasingly recognized, yet disease information is variably incorporated into wildlife management frameworks. This discrepancy is particularly relevant for Rangifer tarandus (caribou or reindeer), a keystone circumarctic species experiencing widespread population declines. The primary objective of this review was to characterize the available peer-reviewed literature on infectious diseases of Rangifer by using a scoping review methodology. Three databases of peer-reviewed literature - Web of Science, BIOSIS previews, and Scopus - were searched and 695 articles met the criteria for initial review. After screening for relevance and language, 349 articles, published between 1967 and 2020, remained. More than half of the excluded articles (181/346; 52%) were left out because they were not published in English; the majority of these excluded articles (120) were in Russian. From the 349 included articles, 137 (39%) pertained to wild (as opposed to semidomesticated or captive) Rangifer populations. Articles on infectious disease in wild Rangifer were published in 40 different journals across various disciplines; the most common journals were disease and parasitology oriented, accounting for 55% of included articles. Most studies were descriptive (87%), followed by experimental (9%). Of the pathogen taxa investigated, helminths were the most common, comprising 35% of articles. Rangifer subspecies were not equally represented in the literature, with barren-ground caribou (R. t. groenlandicus; n=40) and woodland caribou (R. t. caribou; n=39) having the greatest abundance and diversity of infectious disease information available. Few studies explicitly examined individual or population-level impacts of disease, or related disease to vital population rates, and only 27 articles explicitly related results to management or conservation. Findings from this review highlight an unbalanced distribution of studies across Rangifer ecotypes, a preference for dissemination in disease-specialized publication venues, and an opportunity for investigating population-level impacts that may be more readily integrated into caribou conservation frameworks.