U.S. Department of Agriculture: Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service



Amanda M. Veals https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5129-3462

Date of this Version



Veals AM, Koprowski JL, Bergman DL, VerCauteren KC, Wester DB (2021) Occurrence of mesocarnivores in montane sky islands: How spatial and temporal overlap informs rabies management in a regional hotspot. PLoS ONE 16(11): e0259260. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal. pone.0259260


The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.


Interspecific interactions among mesocarnivores can influence community dynamics and resource partitioning. Insights into these interactions can enhance understanding of local ecological processes that have impacts on pathogen transmission, such as the rabies lyssavirus. Host species ecology can provide an important baseline for disease management strategies especially in biologically diverse ecosystems and heterogeneous landscapes. We used a mesocarnivore guild native to the southwestern United States, a regional rabies hotspot, that are prone to rabies outbreaks as our study system. Gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), bobcats (Lynx rufus), and coyotes (Canis latrans) share large portions of their geographic ranges and can compete for resources, occupy similar niches, and influence population dynamics of each other. We deployed 80 cameras across two mountain ranges in Arizona, stratified by vegetation type. We used two-stage modeling to gain insight into species occurrence and co-occurrence patterns. There was strong evidence for the effects of elevation, season, and temperature impacting detection probability of all four species, with understory height and canopy cover also influencing gray foxes and skunks. For all four mesocarnivores, a second stage multi-species co-occurrence model better explained patterns of detection than the single-species occurrence model. These four species are influencing the space use of each other and are likely competing for resources seasonally. We did not observe spatial partitioning between these competitors, likely due to an abundance of cover and food resources in the biologically diverse system we studied. From our results we can draw inferences on community dynamics to inform rabies management in a regional hotspot. Understanding environmental factors in disease hotspots can provide useful information to develop more reliable early-warning systems for viral outbreaks. We recommend that disease management focus on delivering oral vaccine baits onto the landscape when natural food resources are less abundant, specifically during the two drier seasons in Arizona (pre-monsoon spring and autumn) to maximize intake by all mesocarnivores.