The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Wildlife Services National Rabies Management Program has conducted cooperative oral rabies vaccination (ORV) programs since 1997. Understanding the eco-epidemiology of raccoon (Procyon lotor) variant rabies (raccoon rabies) is critical to successful management. Pine (Pinus spp.)-dominated landscapes generally support low relative raccoon densities that may inhibit rabies spread. However, confounding landscape features, such as wetlands and human development, represent potentially elevated risk corridors for rabies spread, possibly imperiling enhanced rabies surveillance and ORV planning. Raccoon habitat suitability in pine-dominated landscapes in Massachusetts, Florida, and Alabama was modeled by the maximum entropy (Maxent) procedure using raccoon presence, and landscape and environmental data. Replicated (n = 100/state) bootstrapped Maxent models based on raccoon sampling locations from 2012–2014 indicated that soil type was the most influential variable in Alabama (permutation importance PI = 38.3), which, based on its relation to landcover type and resource distribution and abundance, was unsurprising. Precipitation (PI = 46.9) and temperature (PI = 52.1) were the most important variables in Massachusetts and Florida, but these possibly spurious results require further investigation. The Alabama Maxent probability surface map was ingested into Circuitscape for conductance visualizations of potential areas of habitat connectivity. Incorporating these and future results into raccoon rabies containment and elimination strategies could result in significant cost-savings for rabies management here and elsewhere.
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© 2017 by the authors.