Factors Influencing Uptake of Sylvatic Plague Vaccine Baits by Prairie Dogs

Abstract

Sylvatic plague vaccine (SPV) is a virally vectored bait-delivered vaccine expressing Yersinia pestis antigens that can protect prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) from plague and has potential utility as a management tool. In a large-scale 3-year field trial, SPV-laden baits containing the biomarker rhodamine B (used to determine bait consumption) were distributed annually at a rate of approximately 100–125 baits/hectare along transects at 58 plots encompassing the geographic ranges of four species of prairie dogs. We assessed site- and individual-level factors related to bait uptake in prairie dogs to determine which were associated with bait uptake rates. Overall bait uptake for 7820 prairie dogs sampled was 70% (95% C.I. 69.9–72.0). Factors influencing bait uptake rates by prairie dogs varied by species, however, in general, heavier animals had greater bait uptake rates. Vegetation quality and day of baiting influenced this relationship for black-tailed, Gunnison’s, and Utah prairie dogs. For these species, baiting later in the season, when normalized difference vegetation indices (a measure of green vegetation density) are lower, improves bait uptake by smaller animals. Consideration of these factors can aid in the development of species-specific SPV baiting strategies that maximize bait uptake and subsequent immunization of prairie dogs against plague.

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Acknowledgements

The authors are grateful to Colleen Crill, Susan Smith, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife for assistance in preparing hair and whisker samples and a very large contingent of field and laboratory personnel and volunteers for bait production, trapping, and sampling prairie dogs. Dan Grear provided critical review of the manuscript. Funding for the project was provided by US Geological Survey, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, US Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Colorado’s Species Conservation Trust Fund, Utah Division of Wildlife, Arizona Game and Fish, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, World Wildlife Fund, and the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

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Correspondence to Tonie E. Rocke.

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Abbott, R.C., Russell, R.E., Richgels, K.L.D. et al. Factors Influencing Uptake of Sylvatic Plague Vaccine Baits by Prairie Dogs. EcoHealth 15, 12–22 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10393-017-1294-1

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Keywords

  • Cynomys spp.
  • Prairie dogs
  • Vaccine
  • Sylvatic plague
  • Yersinia pestis
  • Rhodamine B