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Potential effects of environmental conditions on prairie dog flea development and implications for sylvatic plague epizootics

September 20, 2022

Fleas are common ectoparasites of vertebrates worldwide and vectors of many pathogens causing disease, such as sylvatic plague in prairie dog colonies. Development of fleas is regulated by environmental conditions, especially temperature and relative humidity. Development rates are typically slower at low temperatures and faster at high temperatures, which are bounded by lower and upper thresholds where development is reduced. Prairie dogs and their associated fleas (mostly Oropsylla spp) live in burrows that moderate outside environmental conditions, remaining cooler in summer and warmer in winter. We found burrow microclimates were characterized by stable daily temperatures and high relative humidity, with temperatures increasing from spring through summer. We previously showed temperature increases corresponded with increasing off-host flea abundance. To evaluate how changes in temperature could affect future prairie dog flea development and abundance, we used development rates of O. montana (a species related to prairie dog fleas), determined how prairie dog burrow microclimates are affected by ambient weather, and combined these results to develop a predictive model. Our model predicts burrow temperatures and flea development rates will increase during the twenty-first century, potentially leading to higher flea abundance and an increased probability of plague epizootics if Y. pestis is present.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Potential effects of environmental conditions on prairie dog flea development and implications for sylvatic plague epizootics
DOI 10.1007/s10393-022-01615-6
Authors Michael D. Samuel, Julia E. Poje, Tonie E. Rocke, Marco E. Metzger
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title EcoHealth
Index ID 70237183
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center

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