, Volume 2, Issue 2, pp 102-112

Testing the Generality of a Trophic-cascade Model for Plague

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Abstract

Climate may affect the dynamics of infectious diseases by shifting pathogen, vector, or host species abundance, population dynamics, or community interactions. Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are highly susceptible to plague, yet little is known about factors that influence the dynamics of plague epizootics in prairie dogs. We investigated temporal patterns of plague occurrence in black-tailed prairie dogs to assess the generality of links between climate and plague occurrence found in previous analyses of human plague cases. We examined long-term data on climate and plague occurrence in prairie dog colonies within two study areas. Multiple regression analyses revealed that plague occurrence in prairie dogs was not associated with climatic variables in our Colorado study area. In contrast, plague occurrence was strongly associated with climatic variables in our Montana study area. The models with most support included a positive association with precipitation in April–July of the previous year, in addition to a positive association with the number of “warm” days and a negative association with the number of “hot” days in the same year as reported plague events. We conclude that the timing and magnitude of precipitation and temperature may affect plague occurrence in some geographic areas. The best climatic predictors of plague occurrence in prairie dogs within our Montana study area are quite similar to the best climatic predictors of human plague cases in the southwestern United States. This correspondence across regions and species suggests support for a (temperature-modulated) trophic-cascade model for plague, including climatic effects on rodent abundance, flea abundance, and pathogen transmission, at least in regions that experience strong climatic signals.