Presentation Abstract

Title: Plague disrupts ecosystems and creates challenges for wildlife conservation
Session Title: Diseases Impacting Wildlife Conservation in North America
Session Number: 71
Session Time: Wednesday, Oct 17, 2012, 8:30 AM -12:20 PM
Presentation Time: Wednesday, Oct 17, 2012, 11:40 AM -12:00 PM
Author(s): Dean E. Biggins1, Marc R. Matchett2, Jeffrey Wimsatt3, Tonie E. Rocke4, Jerry L. Godbey1, David A. Eads5, Shantini Ramakrishnan1, Amanda R. Goldberg1, 1U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins, CO, 2U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lewistown, MT, 3West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, 4U.S. Geological Survey, Madison, WI, 5Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, Contact:
Abstract Body: Plague, the disease caused by the primarily flea-borne bacterium Yersinia pestis, was introduced to the Americas circa 1900. Invasion of the disease that caused such widespread human suffering in Eurasia generated significant attention among medical practitioners, but an understanding of the ecological consequences has progressed slowly. In some mammals, plague erupts in epizootics that result in large scale mortality. Whether such outbreaks are important to maintain Y. pestis populations or are simply paroxysms that amplify the bacterium locally remains unclear. Although epizootics of plague are clearly disruptive, low disease transmission during enzootic periods might characterize Y. pestis maintenance. Persistence of plague in enzootic form can cause chronic problems as exemplified by several controlled experiments during non-epizootic periods. . First, vector control increased annual survival rates of adult prairie dogs by 31-45 % for 3 species of prairie dog (Cynomys spp.) in Utah and Montana,, Second, survival of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes), a specialized predator of prairie dogs, was improved by >200% by implementing vector control on the colonies of prairie dogs they inhabited or by vaccinating the ferrets against plague. Third, vector control or plague vaccination significantly increased survival of Mexican woodrats (Neotoma mexicana) in the eastern Colorado foothills. Thus, enzootic plague appears to substantially influence populations of a variety of species in the western U.S. Multiple indirect effects also are plausible. Disruptions to ecosystems caused by epizootic or enzootic plague can be especially dramatic when the disease influences keystone or foundation species such as prairie dogs. Plague can also prevent recovery of endangered species such as the ferret or Utah prairie dog (C. parvidens). Although insecticides can control fleas that transmit plague, newly developed vaccines are more promising management tools.

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