Vaccination and Flea Control to Assess Invasion of Plague into the Conata Basin, South Dakota

Research Task: 


Task Manager: 

Dean Biggins

The easterly migration of plague poses potential disaster for prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) and the endangered black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) they support in the Conata Basin of South Dakota, and is an impending crisis for the ferret recovery program in general. This study stems from (1) recently acquired data that suggest plague, a disease caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, may reside in prairie dog colonies—affecting both prairie dog populations and the black-footed ferret populations associated with—them even in the absence of epizootics of the disease; (2) the importance of plague-free habitat for sustaining black-footed ferrets and threatened Utah prairie dogs (C. parvidens); and (3) the recent easterly movement of plague toward formerly plague-free ferret habitat in the Conata Basin. This research will help distinguish among three working hypotheses, namely that (1) plague will fail to invade the Conata Basin, (2) 2005 was an anomaly in the Conata Basin, temporarily presenting conditions that will allow only transitory occupancy of the new range by plague, and (3) plague advanced during an optimal year but will fail to retract once it becomes established, remaining in the Conata Basin as an enzootic resident. To test these hypotheses, FORT scientists are employing flea control and an experimental plague vaccine in an attempt to detect low levels of enzootic plague.

For more information contact:

Dean Biggins

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