Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Fall 2012

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

First Advisor

Andrew P. Martin

Abstract

Understanding disease-causing organisms from a broader ecological perspective has proven a valuable tool for understanding the causes of disease outbreaks in various organisms. Several insect species act as both parasites and pathogen carriers, making them important players in the spread of diseases in human and wildlife communities. This study aimed to determine what could be used to predict the distribution of flea genetic diversity parasitizing Gunnison’s prairie dogs (Cynomys gunnisoni) as a foundation for understanding the potential influence and implications this may have for transmission of disease causing microbes such as Rickettsia, Bartonella, and Yersinia pestis. A much higher level of flea genetic diversity was found in the colonies compared to what has been observed for fleas parasitizing black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicanus). Although none of the factors tested (location of colony relative to others, prairie dog genetic diversity, or number of mammals species) were able to predict the genetic diversity of fleas observed across colonies, potential implications for the spread of disease causing microbes are still considered, with recommendations for further research. The present study emphasizes the need to collect further data on mammals that frequently interact with Gunnison’s prairie dogs, as well as abiotic factors such as climate and temperature, both of which could be used to further investigate the survival and transmission of pathogens in this system.

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