Passive treatment of raccoons (Procyon lotor) through distribution of vaccine-laden baits recently has emerged as a potential solution to address health and economic conflicts associated with raccoon rabies and may have applications in the management of other pathogens carried by raccoons if frequent bait deployments are used. Consumption of baits by nontarget species reduces the efficiency in which baits can be used to manage wildlife disease, although no study has explicitly evaluated the influence of bait competitor density on the ability to treat raccoons. Our objectives were to use the biomarker Rhodamine B (RB) to 1) evaluate patterns of raccoon bait acceptance as a function of competition with Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana), the dominant bait competitor; 2) characterize attributes of opossum bait acceptance to improve efficiency of raccoon treatment; and 3) evaluate the effect of repeated bait exposure on rates of bait acceptance as may be required in the management of wildlife disease issues beyond rabies. Identifying bait consumption by individuals based on the presence of an RB mark in a sample of whiskers, we used logistic regression to model raccoon and opossum bait acceptance as a function of bait availability, previous exposure to baits, demographic attributes, and an index of time spent in the baited area (residency index). For both raccoons and opossums, the best measure of bait availability was the variable number of baits per opossum. The most parsimonious logistic regression model for raccoon bait acceptance included the variables baits per opossum, exposure history, and residency index. The strength of the variable baits per opossum relative to competing measures of bait availability indicated bait consumption by opossums significantly limited the ability to treat raccoons. The most parsimonious model for opossum acceptance was composed of the variables baits per opossum, sex, weight, residency index, baits per opossum × sex, and weight × sex. Patterns of opossum bait acceptance likely were driven by effects of bait availability and sex-dependent differences in movement. Our results call attention to the importance of bait competition in limiting the ability to effectively treat raccoon populations through distribution of baits and suggest managers incorporate information on density of bait competitors, particularly opossums, in allocation of baits.
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Vol. 74 • No. 6