Socially transmitted wildlife behaviours that create human–wildlife conflict are an emerging problem for conservation efforts, but also provide a unique opportunity to apply principles of infectious disease control to wildlife management. As an example, California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) have learned to exploit concentrations of migratory adult salmonids below the fish ladders at Bonneville Dam, impeding endangered salmonid recovery. Proliferation of this foraging behaviour in the sea lion population has resulted in a controversial culling programme of individual sea lions at the dam, but the impact of such culling remains unclear. To evaluate the effectiveness of current and alternative culling strategies, we used network-based diffusion analysis on a long-term dataset to demonstrate that social transmission is implicated in the increase in dam-foraging behaviour and then studied different culling strategies within an epidemiological model of the behavioural transmission data. We show that current levels of lethal control have substantially reduced the rate of social transmission, but failed to effectively reduce overall sea lion recruitment. Earlier implementation of culling could have substantially reduced the extent of behavioural transmission and, ultimately, resulted in fewer animals being culled. Epidemiological analyses offer a promising tool to understand and control socially transmissible behaviours.
- Received September 15, 2016.
- Accepted October 31, 2016.
- © 2016 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.