Hunting can fundamentally alter wildlife population dynamics, but the
consequences of hunting on pathogen transmission and evolution remain
poorly understood. Here we present a study that leverages a unique
landscape-scale experiment coupled with pathogen transmission tracing,
network simulation and phylodynamics to provide insights into how
hunting shapes viral dynamics in puma (Puma concolor). We show that
removing hunting pressure enhances the role of males in transmission,
increases the viral population growth rate and the role of evolutionary
forces on the pathogen (higher purifying and diversifying selection)
compared with when hunting was reinstated. Changes in transmission could
be linked to short term social changes as male population increases.
These findings are supported through comparison with a region with
stable hunting management over the same time period. This study shows
that routine wildlife management can have profound impacts on pathogen
transmission and evolution not previously considered.