Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Wisconsin Wildlife
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Wisconsin Wildlife Project

Effects of Climate Change on Plague Exposure Pathways and Resulting Disease Dynamics

March 2016 - January 2019


Participating Agencies

  • Department of Defense

Periodic outbreaks of sylvatic plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, has had near catastrophic impacts on prairie dogs and the endangered black-footed ferret. Although human plague cases in the U.S. are relatively infrequent, the disease can be fatal, and its occurrence generates considerable public concern and media attention. Sylvatic plague is relevant to the Department of Defense (DOD) as prairie dogs, ground squirrels and other susceptible rodents are present on military installations in several western states, and the occurrence of plague has curtailed military exercises in the past. Furthermore, plague still occurs in many parts of the world where troops might be deployed, and Y. pestis has the potential to be developed as a biological weapon. Arthropod-borne diseases, like plague, are thought to be particularly sensitive to local climate conditions, and expected changes in temperature and humidity over the next several decades will likely increase the eastern and northern expansion of plague outbreaks in wildlife. Through a combination of field and laboratory work, along with data-driven modeling, we will evaluate the potential effects of climate change on plague exposure pathways in prairie dogs and other rodents, and provide guidance to DOD partners regarding the potential for future outbreaks. We will also validate the use of an orally-delivered sylvatic plague vaccine (SPV) for use as a management tool to prevent outbreaks.