Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Plague circulation in small mammals elevates extinction risk for the endangered Peñasco least chipmunk

August 4, 2022

Wildlife diseases are a major concern for species survival around the world. Vector-borne diseases, in particular, are problematic for both humans and wildlife. Plague is an introduced disease to North America where many species have low natural resistance to infection by the causative bacterium, Yersinia pestis. Plague in the United States is often associated with large-scale epizootic events that impact rodent populations. However, we need more information regarding the effects of plague at enzootic levels and in species that rarely if ever experience epizootic events. New Mexico is a state that experiences regular epizootic plague events in several species of rodents but comparatively less is known about enzootic plague impacts within rodent communities in New Mexico. The Peñasco least chipmunk (Neotamias minimus atristriatus) is state-listed as endangered in New Mexico and is a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. It likely has been extirpated from the southern portion of its range and is now observed only at high elevations in isolated areas in the White Mountains. We evaluated plague presence in the more abundant small mammal species associated with these chipmunks. We used an F1 antigen plague-specific vaccine and a placebo injection to test whether plague was present and reducing survival in western deer mouse (Peromyscus sonoriensis) and vole (Microtus spp.) populations in the Lincoln National Forest. The effect of plague on survival differed among years and sites. Monthly apparent survival was up to 60 % higher for rodents given the vaccine compared to those given a placebo. Our results suggest that plague is likely impacting the small mammal community in the Lincoln National Forest and is even present at higher elevation sites where the Peñasco least chipmunk was most recently extirpated. Because least chipmunks are highly susceptible to plague, our results suggest that this disease may be an important factor in the population decline of the Peñasco least chipmunk.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Plague circulation in small mammals elevates extinction risk for the endangered Peñasco least chipmunk
DOI 10.1016/j.gecco.2022.e02244
Authors Amanda R. Goldberg, David A. Eads, Dean E. Biggins
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Global Ecology and Conservation
Series Number
Index ID 70234237
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center