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Media Advisory 04-28
Lecture on Ecology of Infectious Diseases

Plague and prairie dogs: Conflicts between wildlife conservation and protection of public health

Prairie dogs

Prairie dogs may facilitate transmission of plague, scientists are finding.
Credit and Larger Version

September 10, 2004

 

Urbanization results in the fragmentation of native habitats, which dramatically alters the rate of transmission and spread of infectious diseases, scientists are finding.

Case in point: Native grasslands throughout the western United States are becoming the most rapidly urbanized ecosystems in the country. Black-tailed prairie dogs, an imperiled species in western states, are increasingly found in these urban grasslands. In Boulder County, Colo., for example, nearly two-thirds of all prairie dog colonies are within a half-mile of urban development.

Prairie dogs are highly susceptible to plague, a disease that has also afflicted humans for centuries. Plague outbreaks in prairie dog colonies result in the death of nearly all prairie dogs in the colony, yet little is known about the factors that influence where and when plague epidemics will strike. Because of the close proximity of prairie dog colonies to human dwellings, concern is growing that prairie dogs may be a threat to public health.

With funding from the joint National Science Foundation-National Institutes of Health Ecology of Infectious Diseases Program, biologist Sharon Collinge of the University of Colorado at Boulder used records from two decades of plague outbreaks in prairie dogs in Boulder County to evaluate the importance of landscape setting in predicting these outbreaks.

Plague epidemics in prairie dogs, she found, were related to the surrounding landscape in unexpected ways: prairie dog colonies in urban settings were no more or less likely to experience a plague outbreak than such colonies in more rural settings. Significantly, plague outbreaks tended not to occur in colonies that were surrounded by roads, streams or lakes, suggesting that these landscape features may alter the conditions necessary for plague transmission or serve as barriers to movement of the disease.

By identifying the ecological components of plague outbreaks, Collinge will be able to provide wildlife managers with the tools necessary to protect declining populations of prairie dogs and to minimize public exposure to plague.

Who:

Sharon Collinge, principal investigator, NSF-NIH Ecology of Infectious Diseases Program

What:

Lecture on plague, prairie dogs and humans

When:

Monday, September 20, 2004
3:30 p.m.

Where:

National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Blvd.
Stafford II Building, Room 555
Arlington, VA 22230
(Ballston Metro, enter at the corner of 9th and Stuart Streets)

 

-NSF-

 

Note to journalists: For information on Ecology of Infectious Diseases FY 2004 Awards see: http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/newsroom/pr.cfm?ni=15000000000122

Media Contacts
Cheryl L. Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, cdybas@nsf.gov

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2014, its budget is $7.2 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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