PREVALENCE AND ABUNDANCE OF FLEAS IN BLACK-TAILED PRAIRIE DOG BURROWS: IMPLICATIONS FOR THE TRANSMISSION OF PLAGUE (YERSINIA PESTIS)

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Abstract

Plague, the disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, can have devastating impacts on North American wildlife. Epizootics, or die-offs, in prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) occur sporadically and fleas (Siphonaptera) are probably important in the disease's transmission and possibly as maintenance hosts of Y. pestis between epizootics. We monitored changes in flea abundance in prairie dog burrows in response to precipitation, temperature, and plague activity in shortgrass steppe in northern Colorado. Oropsylla hirsuta was the most commonly found flea, and it increased in abundance with temperature. In contrast, Oropsylla tuberculata cynomuris declined with rising temperature. During plague epizootics, flea abundance in burrows increased and then subsequently declined after the extirpation of their prairie dog hosts.

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