A behaviorally-explicit approach for delivering vaccine baits to mesopredators to control epizootics in fragmented landscapes.

Research paper by James C JC Beasley, Todd C TC Atwood, Michael E ME Byrne, Kurt C KC Vercauteren, Shylo R SR Johnson, Olin E OE Rhodes

Indexed on: 15 Jan '15Published on: 15 Jan '15Published in: PloS one


Despite the widespread use of aerial baiting to manage epizootics among free-ranging populations, particularly in rabies management, bait acceptance and seroconversion rates often are lower than required to eliminate spread of disease. Our objectives in this study, therefore, were to evaluate the performance of stratified bait distribution models derived from resource selection functions (RSF) on uptake of placebo rabies baits by raccoons (Procyon lotor) and Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana), as well as the probability of bait uptake as a function of proximity to bait distribution areas in fragmented agricultural ecosystems. Among 478 raccoons and 108 opossums evaluated for presence of Rhodamine B (RB) across 8 sites, only 26% of raccoons and 20% of opossums exhibited marking consistent with bait consumption 14-24 days post-baiting. The effective area treated, based on 90% kernel density estimators of marked individuals, ranged from 99-240 ha larger than bait distribution zones, with RB marked individuals captured up to 753 m beyond the bait zone. Despite incorporation of RSF data into bait distribution models, no differences in uptake rates were observed between treatment and control sites. These data likely reflect the underlying constraints imposed by the loss and fragmentation of habitat on animal movement in heterogeneous landscapes, forcing individuals to optimize movements at coarse (i.e., patch-level) rather than fine spatial scales in highly fragmented environments. Our data also confirm that the probability of bait acceptance decreases with increasing distance from bait zone interiors, even within the zone itself. Thus, although bait acceptance was confirmed beyond bait zone boundaries, the proportion of vaccinated individuals may comprise a small minority of the population at increasing distances from baiting interiors. These data suggest focal baiting creates a buffered area of treated individuals around bait zones or bait stations, but repeated treatments may be needed to achieve sufficient uptake to eradicate disease.