Disease limits populations: plague and black-tailed prairie dogs

Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases
By: , and 



Plague is an exotic vector-borne disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis that causes mortality rates approaching 100% in black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus). We mapped the perimeter of the active portions of black-tailed prairie dog colonies annually between 1999 and 2005 at four prairie dog colony complexes in areas with a history of plague, as well as at two complexes that were located outside the distribution of plague at the time of mapping and had therefore never been affected by the disease. We hypothesized that the presence of plague would significantly reduce overall black-tailed prairie dog colony area, reduce the sizes of colonies on these landscapes, and increase nearest-neighbor distances between colonies. Within the region historically affected by plague, individual colonies were smaller, nearest-neighbor distances were greater, and the proportion of potential habitat occupied by active prairie dog colonies was smaller than at plague-free sites. Populations that endured plague were composed of fewer large colonies (>100 ha) than populations that were historically plague free. We suggest that these differences among sites in colony size and isolation may slow recolonization after extirpation. At the same time, greater intercolony distances may also reduce intercolony transmission of pathogens. Reduced transmission among smaller and more distant colonies may ultimately enhance long-term prairie dog population persistence in areas where plague is present.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Disease limits populations: plague and black-tailed prairie dogs
Series title Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases
DOI 10.1089/vbz.2009.0045
Volume 10
Issue 1
Year Published 2010
Language English
Publisher Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
Publisher location Larchmont, NY
Contributing office(s) Coop Res Unit Atlanta
Description 9 p.
First page 7
Last page 15
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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