Skip to main content

Factors Influencing Uptake of Sylvatic Plague Vaccine Baits by Prairie Dogs


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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3


  • Abbott RC, Osorio JE, Bunck CM, Rocke TE (2012) Sylvatic plague vaccine: a new tool for conservation of threatened and endangered species? EcoHealth 9:243–520.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Bates D, Maechler M, Bolker B, Walker S (2015) Fitting linear mixed-effects models using lme4. Journal of Statistical Software 67:1–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Berentsen AR, Dunbar MR, Fitzpatrick CE, Walter WD (2013) Spatial ecology of urban raccoons in northeastern Ohio: implications for oral rabies vaccination. The Prairie Naturalist 45:39–45.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boone A, Kraft JP, Stapp P (2009) Scavenging by mammalian carnivores on prairie dog colonies: implications for the spread of plague. Vector-borne and Zoonotic Diseases 9:185–189.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Bron GM (2017) Role of Short-Lived Rodents and Their Fleas in Plague Ecology on Prairie Dog Colonies. Ph.D. thesis. University of Wisconsin, Madison.

  • Buddle BM, Parlane NA, Wedlock, DN, Heiser A (2013) Overview of vaccination trials for control of tuberculosis in cattle, wildlife, and humans. Transboundary and Emerging Diseases 60:136–146.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Burnham KP, Anderson DR (2002) Information and likelihood theory: a basis for model selection and inference. In: Model selection and multimodel inference: a practical information-theoretic approach, New York: Spring-Verlag, pp 49–297.

    Google Scholar 

  • Calenge L, Rossi S (2014) Bayesian modelling of hunting data may improve the understanding of host-parasite systems: wild boar diseases and vaccination as an example. Journal of Theoretical Biology 343:32–43.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Cross ML, Buddle BM, Aldwell FE (2007) The potential of oral vaccines for disease control in wildlife species. The Veterinary Journal 174:472–480.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Cully JR, Williams ES (2001) Interspecific comparisons of sylvatic plague in prairie dogs. Journal of Mammalogy 82:894–905.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fernandez JRR, Rocke TE (2011) The use of rhodamine B as a biomarker for oral plague vaccination of prairie dogs. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 47:765–768.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Fine P, Eames K, Heymann DL (2011) Herd immunity: a rough guide. Clinical Infectious Diseases 52:911–916.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Fischer JW, Blass CR, Walter WD, Anderson CW, Lavelle MJ, Hall WH, VerCauteren KC (2016) Evaluating a strategy to deliver vaccine to white-tailed deer at a landscape level. Wildlife Society Bulletin 40:394–399.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fisher P (1999) Review of using Rhodamine B as a marker for wildlife studies. Wildlife Society Bulletin 27(2):318–329.

    Google Scholar 

  • Fitzgerald JP, Lechleitner RR (1974) Observations on the biology of Gunnison’s prairie dog in central Colorado. The American Midland Naturalist 92(1):146–163.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gomes-Solecki M (2014) Blocking pathogen transmission at the source: reservoir targeted OspA-based vaccines against Borrelia burgdorferi. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology 4:1–7; DOI:

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Hermann JR, Fry AM, Siev D, Slate D, Lewis C, Gatewood DM (2011) Stability of vaccinia-vectored recombinant oral rabies vaccine under field conditions: a 3-year study. The Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research 75:278–284.

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  • Hoogland JL (1995) The black-tailed prairie dog: social life of a burrowing mammal. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 557 pp.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jenkerson CB, Maiersperger T, Schmidt G (2010) eMODIS: A user-friendly data source: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2010–1055, 10 pp.

  • Müller T, Freuling CM, Gschwendner P (2012) SURVIS: a fully-automated aerial baiting system for the distribution of vaccine baits for wildlife. Berliner und Munchener Tierarztliche Wochenscrift 125:197–202.

    Google Scholar 

  • Müller T, Freuling CM, Wysocki P, Roumiantzeff M, Freney J, Mettenleiter TC, Vos A (2015) Terrestrial rabies control in the European Union: Historical achievements and challenges ahead. The Veterinary Journal 203:10–17.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Pauli J, Buskirk S, Williams E, Edwards W (2006) A plague epizootic in the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus). Journal of Wildlife Diseases 42:74–80.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • R Core Team (2016) R: a language and environment for statistical computing, Vienna, Austria: R Foundation for Statistical Computing. URL

  • Robin X, Turck N, Hainard A, Tiberti N, Lisacek F, Sanchez J-C, Müller M (2011) pROC: an open-source package for R and S + to analyze and compare ROC curves. BMC Bioinformatics 12, p. 77. DOI:

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Rocke TE, Kinstad-Bakke B, Berlier W, Osorio JE (2014) A recombinant raccoon poxvirus vaccine expressing both Yersinia pestis F1 and truncated V antigens protects animals against lethal plague. Vaccines 2:772–784.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Rocke TE, Tripp DW, Lorenzsonn F, Falendysz E, Smith S, Williamson J, Abbott RC (2015) Age at vaccination may influence response to sylvatic plague vaccine (SPV) in Gunnison’s prairie dogs (Cynomys gunnisoni). EcoHealth 12(2):278–287.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Rocke TE, Tripp DW, Russell RE, Abbott RC, Richgels KLD, Matchett MR, Biggins DE, Griebel R, Schroeder G, Grassel S, Gilliland R, Cordova J, Kavalunas A, Maxfield B, Boulerice J, Miller MW (2017) Bait-delivered sylvatic plague vaccine protects prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) from plague in field efficacy trials in western U.S. EcoHealth 14(3):438–450.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Rushmore J, Caillaud D, Hall RJ, Stumpf RM, Meyers LA, Altizer S (2014) Network-based vaccination improves prospects for disease control in wild chimpanzees. Journal of the Royal Society Interface 11: 20140349.

    Article  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Slate D, Algeo TP, Nelson KM, Chipman RB, Donovan D, Blanton JD, Niezgoda M, Rupprecht CE (2009) Oral rabies vaccination in North America: opportunities, complexities, and challenges. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 3(12):e549.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Tileston JV, Lechleitner RR (1966) Some comparisons of the black-tailed and white-tailed prairie dogs in north-central Colorado. The American Midland Naturalist 75(2):292–316.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tripp DW, Rocke TE, Streich SP, Brown NL, Ramos J, Miller MW (2014) Season and application rates affect vaccine bait consumption by prairie dogs. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 50:224–34.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Tripp DW, Rocke TE, Streich SP, Abbott RC, Osorio JE, Miller MW (2015) Apparent field safety of a raccoon poxvirus-vectored plague vaccine in free-ranging prairie dogs, Colorado, USA. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 51(2):401–410.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Tripp DW, Rocke TE, Runge JP, Abbott RC, Miller MW (2017) Annual burrow dusting or oral vaccination prevents plague-associated black-tailed prairie dog colony collapse. EcoHealth 14:451–462.

  • Ubico SR, Maupin GO, Fagerstone KA, McLean RG (1988) A plague epizootic in the white-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys leucurus) of Meeteese, Wyoming. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 24:399–406.

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


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.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tonie E. Rocke.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 737 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


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