Plague impacts prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.), the endangered black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) and other sensitive wildlife species. We compared efficacy of prophylactic treatments (burrow dusting with deltamethrin or oral vaccination with recombinant “sylvatic plague vaccine” [RCN-F1/V307]) to placebo treatment in black-tailed prairie dog (C. ludovicianus) colonies. Between 2013 and 2015, we measured prairie dog apparent survival, burrow activity and flea abundance on triplicate plots (“blocks”) receiving dust, vaccine or placebo treatment. Epizootic plague affected all three blocks but emerged asynchronously. Dust plots had fewer fleas per burrow (P < 0.0001), and prairie dogs captured on dust plots had fewer fleas (P < 0.0001) than those on vaccine or placebo plots. Burrow activity and prairie dog density declined sharply in placebo plots when epizootic plague emerged. Patterns in corresponding dust and vaccine plots were less consistent and appeared strongly influenced by timing of treatment applications relative to plague emergence. Deltamethrin or oral vaccination enhanced apparent survival within two blocks. Applying insecticide or vaccine prior to epizootic emergence blunted effects of plague on prairie dog survival and abundance, thereby preventing colony collapse. Successful plague mitigation will likely entail strategic combined uses of burrow dusting and oral vaccination within large colonies or colony complexes.
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