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Plague outbreaks in prairie-dog colonies associated with El Niño climatic events




Stapp, Paul, author
Antolin, Michael F., author
Ball, Mark, author
SGS-LTER, Colorado State University, publisher

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Plague (Yersinia pestis) was introduced to the western U.S. in the mid-20th century and is a significant threat to the persistence of black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) populations. The social, colonial habits of prairie dogs make them particularly susceptible to plague, and many flea species, including known carriers of plague, are associated with prairie dogs or their extensive burrow systems. Mortality during plague epizootics, or outbreaks, is nearly 100% (Cully and Williams 2001; J. Mammal. 82:894), resulting in the extinction of entire colonies. In northern Colorado, prairie dogs exist in metapopulations (Roach et al. 2001, J. Mammal. 82:946), in which colonies naturally isolated by topography, soils and vegetation are connected by dispersal. Dispersal of either infected prairie dogs or plague-resistant reservoir species is hypothesized to spread plague among colonies. Plague outbreaks therefore may disrupt the dynamics of prairie-dog metapopulations and affect regional persistence. In the context of a century of past eradication efforts that have drastically reduced prairie-dog numbers, and increasing agricultural and urban development, plague represents a relatively new and unique threat to prairie dogs and the species that are closely associated with them. Poster presented at the 6th SGS Symposium held on 1/10/03.


The SGS-LTER research site was established in 1980 by researchers at Colorado State University as part of a network of long-term research sites within the US LTER Network, supported by the National Science Foundation. Scientists within the Natural Resource Ecology Lab, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, and Biology Department at CSU, California State Fullerton, USDA Agricultural Research Service, University of Northern Colorado, and the University of Wyoming, among others, have contributed to our understanding of the structure and functions of the shortgrass steppe and other diverse ecosystems across the network while maintaining a common mission and sharing expertise, data and infrastructure.
Colorado State University. Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory; Colorado State University. Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship; Colorado State University. Department of Soil and Crop Sciences; Colorado State University. Department of Biology; California State University, Fullerton; United States. Agricultural Research Service; United States. Forest Service. Pawnee National Grasslands; University of Northern Colorado.

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shortgrass steppe
long term ecological research
grassland ecology
Pawnee National Grassland
Central Plains Experimental Range


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