Habitat Alteration and Disease Effects on Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs

EPA Grant Number: R829091
Title: Habitat Alteration and Disease Effects on Black-Tailed Prairie Dogs
Investigators: Collinger, Sharon K. , Stone, Eric R. , Ray, Chris , Cully, Jack , Loye, Jenella , Gage, Kenneth , Kosoy, Michael
Current Investigators: Collinger, Sharon K. , Ray, Chris , Cully, Jack , Gage, Kenneth , Kosoy, Michael
Institution: University of Colorado at Boulder
Current Institution: University of Colorado at Boulder , Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , Kansas State University
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: December 15, 2001 through December 14, 2004 (Extended to December 14, 2005)
Project Amount: $500,000
RFA: Wildlife Risk Assessment (2001) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Aquatic Ecosystems , Biology/Life Sciences


Our research focuses on the combined effects of habitat alteration and wildlife community structure on the risk of disease outbreaks in the black-tailed prairie dog, a species of conservation concern. This species is susceptible to blood diseases transmitted by fleas, such as the sylvatic plague. Populations (colonies) contracting plague through infective fleas commonly suffer 100% mortality, so predicting the risk of exposure to infective fleas is of utmost importance for the conservation of this species.

Predicting disease outbreaks in this system involves consideration of multiple population stressors. Most diseases spread through contact between individuals of a single species, so the prediction of outbreaks depends on prediction of population dynamics within the species. Blood diseases like the plague spread through contact between black-tailed prairie dogs and the many alternate mammalian hosts that occur in the same habitat. Therefore, our research addresses effects of landscape structure and land use on the dynamics of black-tailed prairie dogs and on the dynamics of the alternate host community. In addition, we distinguish risks associated with an introduced pathogen (sylvatic plague) with risks associated with an endemic blood pathogen (Bartonella). Thus, our study addresses effects of habitat, host community and pathogen community on risk in this species.


We will conduct field research to determine the statistical relationships between outbreaks of plague and bartonellosis in black-tailed prairie dogs and in the alternate host community. Data will be gathered at both regional and local scales. First, detailed studies of landscape structure and use, population demography and disease will be conducted within one county in Colorado. Second, landscape structure and use will be related to presence-absence studies of disease and host populations conducted across several counties in Colorado and neighboring states.

Expected Results:

The products of our research will be a) general models addressing the importance of habitat structure and community structure on risk resulting from diseases that infect multiple host species, and b) specific models for predicting risk of disease outbreaks in the black-tailed prairie dog in different landscapes. These models should illustrate the potential for multiple stressors (habitat alteration, community alteration and introduced disease) to influence population risk.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 40 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 5 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

risk assessment, pathogens, ecosystem, scaling, habitat, ecology, epidemiology, modeling., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, wildlife, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, State, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecology and Ecosystems, molecular epidemiology, risk assessment, ecosystem modeling, habitat, population stressors, endangered species, assessment models, ecology, ecosystem assessment, molecular diagnostics, animal responses, environmental risks, fleas, habitat loss, Wildlife Risk Assessment, conservation, genetic testing, wildlife community structure, risk models, ecological assessment, ecological impacts, ecosystem indicators, pathogen, environmental stress, ecosystem stress, ecological models, habitat alteration, prarie dogs, disease, ecological research, Colorado (CO)

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2002 Progress Report
  • 2003 Progress Report
  • 2004 Progress Report
  • Final Report