New publication: Antler cannibalism in reindeer

By Atle Mysterud, Bjørnar Ytrehus, Michael A. Tranulis, Geir Rune Rauset, Christer M. Rolandsen, and Olav Strand in Scientific Reports. With a complemantary popular science article in

Popular science article

Popular science article in (in Norwegian): "Kan gevir-kannibalisme forklare utbrudd av skrantesyke blant villrein?". Published 24 January 2021.

Scientific publication


Prion diseases constitute a class of invariably fatal and degenerative encephalopathies. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a contagious prion disease among cervids, which is spreading and causing marked population declines in USA and Canada. The first outbreak of CWD in Europe was discovered in a reindeer population in Norway in 2016. In the worst-case scenario with continental-wide spreading of CWD in Eurasia, an annual harvest of around 4 million cervids is at stake only in Europe, with huge economic and cultural significance. An in situ origin of CWD was suspected, and it appear urgent to identify the likely cause to prevent future emergences. Here, we document the novel phenomenon of extensive antler cannibalism prior to shedding among reindeer in the CWD-infected population. The extent of antler cannibalism increased over the last decades when CWD emerged, and included ingestion of vascularized antlers. Ingestion of tissues from conspecifics is a risk factor for the emergence of prion diseases, where the presence of extensive antler cannibalism opens the intriguing possibility of a ‘Kuru-analogue’ origin of CWD among the reindeer in Europe. Based on general insight on pathology of prion diseases and strain selection processes, we propose an hypothesis for how contagious CWD may emerge from sporadic CWD under the unique epidemiological conditions we document here. More research is required to document the presence of prions in reindeer antlers, and whether antler cannibalism actually led to a strain selection process and the emergence of a contagious form of CWD from a sporadic form of CWD.

Scientific Reports
First published: 17 December 2020
Volume 10, Article number: 22168 (2020)
DOI: s41598-020-79050-2
Publication webpage.

Atle Mysterud1, Bjørnar Ytrehus2, Michael A.Tranulis3, Geir Rune Rauset2, Christer M. Rolandsen2, and Olav Strand2.

1 Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Department of Biosciences, University of Oslo, Blindern, P.O. Box 1066, 0316 Oslo, Norway.

2 Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), Torgarden, P. O. Box 5685, 7485 Trondheim, Norway.

3 Department of Preclinical Sciences and Pathology, Norwegian University of Life
Sciences, P.O. Box 369 Sentrum, 0102 Oslo, Norway.

Tags: Scientific Reports;
Published Feb. 5, 2021 11:47 AM - Last modified Mar. 10, 2021 6:16 PM