Plague is the primary cause for the rangewide decline in prairie dog (Cynomys spp.) distribution and abundance, yet our knowledge of plague dynamics in prairie dog populations is limited. Our understanding of the effects of plague on the most widespread species, the black-tailed prairie dog (C. ludovicianus), is particularly weak. During a study on the population biology of black-tailed prairie dogs in Wyoming, USA, plague was detected in a colony under intensive monitoring, providing a unique opportunity to quantify various consequences of plague. The epizootic reduced juvenile abundance by 96% and adult abundance by 95%. Of the survivors, eight of nine adults and one of eight juveniles developed antibodies to Yersinia pestis. Demographic groups appeared equally susceptible to infection, and age structure was unaffected. Survivors occupied three small coteries and exhibited improved body condition, but increased flea infestation compared to a neighboring, uninfected colony. Black-tailed prairie dogs are capable of surviving a plague epizootic and reorganizing into apparently functional coteries. Surviving prairie dogs may be critical in the repopulation of plague-decimated colonies and, ultimately, the evolution of plague resistance.
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Vol. 42 • No. 1