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


Date of this Version



Published in VECTOR-BORNE AND ZOONOTIC DISEASES Volume 9, Number 6, 2009.


Raccoons are the reservoir for the raccoon rabies virus variant in the United States. To combat this threat, oral rabies vaccination (ORV) programs are conducted in many eastern states. To aid in these efforts, the genetic structure of raccoons (Procyon lotor) was assessed in southwestern Pennsylvania to determine if select geographic features (i.e., ridges and valleys) serve as corridors or hindrances to raccoon gene flow (e.g., movement) and, therefore, rabies virus trafficking in this physiographic region. Raccoon DNA samples (n = 185) were collected from one ridge site and two adjacent valleys in southwestern Pennsylvania (Westmoreland, Cambria, Fayette, and Somerset counties). Raccoon genetic structure within and among these study sites was characterized at nine microsatellite loci. Results indicated that there was little population subdivision among any sites sampled. Furthermore, analyses using a model-based clustering approach indicated one essentially panmictic population was present among all the raccoons sampled over a reasonably broad geographic area (e.g., sites up to 36 km apart). However, a signature of isolation by distance was detected, suggesting that widths of ORV zones are critical for success. Combined, these data indicate that geographic features within this landscape influence raccoon gene flow only to a limited extent, suggesting that ridges of this physiographic system will not provide substantial long-term natural barriers to rabies virus trafficking. These results may be of value for future ORV efforts in Pennsylvania and other eastern states with similar landscapes.