Articles on this page are available in 1 other language: Spanish (16) (learn more)

Overview

Brief Summary

Description

"Black-tailed prairie dogs exhibit the most complex social behavior of all prairie dogs. Social groups called ""coteries"" live together in very large colonies called ""towns."" The largest town ever recorded stretched for 65,000 square km (25,000 square miles) under Texas prairie. An estimated 400 million prairie dogs lived there. Topographical or vegetational features serve to subdivide the towns into clusters of coteries. The members of each coterie cooperate to defend their territory against others. Black-tailed prairie dogs are active all year, although they may spend extended periods of time underground in winter. They breed in February or March and usually have 3 or 4 young, who are first seen aboveground in May or June."

Links:
Mammal Species of the World
Click here for The American Society of Mammalogists species account
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Smithsonian Institution

Source: Smithsonian's North American Mammals

Trusted

Article rating from 1 person

Average rating: 4.0 of 5

Biology

Black-tailed prairie dogs exhibit a high degree of social organisation, living in enormous colonies known as 'towns' containing from hundreds to millions of individuals (1) (8). Each colony shares an elaborate network of burrows for shelter and protection against predators, often covering areas of 100 hectares or more (1), with the largest ever recorded colony covering 65,000 square kilometres and containing an estimated 400 million animals (1) (8)! Colonies are subdivided into 'wards', and then into smaller family units called 'coteries', populated by a group of closely related females, one or two territorial males, and any offspring under two years of age (8) (9). Members of a coterie share food supplies outside of the breeding season and cooperate to aggressively defend their territory from neighbours (2) (8). However, while males respond strongly to intrusion by other males they seem oblivious to invading females; females, by contrast, show the most hostility toward invading females. During the breeding season, females aggressively defend their natal burrow against other females and, given the opportunity, will even raid the burrows of other females and kill their pups (8). Mating is polygynous, with the usually single male mating with multiple females within his coterie. In cases when there is more than one resident male, usually brothers, females will mate with both. Reproduction occurs once per year in spring, although the timing varies with latitude, and females are typically sexually receptive for only one day of the year (8). A litter of one to eight pups is born after a gestation of 33 to 38 days. Young are born blind, naked and mostly helpless (8), and do not emerge from the burrow until around six weeks of age, and are weaned shortly after that (5). Interestingly, after emerging from the burrow, but prior to the end of lactation, pups may nurse from females other than their own mother, an example of 'cooperative breeding' (8). Females remain in their natal coterie for life, while males disperse before their first breeding season (8) (9). Likewise, adult males rarely remain within the same coterie for more than two breeding seasons, probably to reduce the possibility that they will mate with their own female offspring. Females can live up to eight years of age, whereas males tend not to live longer than five years in the wild (8). The black-tailed prairie dog is diurnal and active throughout the year (8). Unlike many other species of prairie dog, these animals do not hibernate, although when the winter weather is extremely cold or snowy they may spend extended periods of time underground (2). Most activity is conducted during the cool hours of the day, when individuals engage in social activities, such as grooming each other, as well as feeding on grasses, herbs and the occasional invertebrate (8), while midday hours are usually spent sleeping below ground (5). Most prairie dogs forage close to their burrows when possible, moving into distant foraging areas only when forced to do so by local shortages of green shoots (8). While prairie dogs are out foraging, a sentry perches on the volcano-like ring that surrounds the burrow and watches for predators. Should a predator or any other danger be spotted, the sentry will bark out a warning, causing the community to dive into their burrows and wait for the 'all clear' call before venturing out again (8).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Description

Named for their dog-like yip, prairie dogs are in fact rather large, stout, ground-dwelling squirrels (4) (5). The black-tailed prairie dog is generally tan to pinkish-brown above and whitish to buff coloured below, and is named for the distinctive and diagnostic black tip to its short tail (5). Coat colour varies slightly with the seasons, with body hair being tipped black in winter but white in summer (6). The head is round with large black eyes and tiny round ears (4).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Distribution

Range Description

This is primarily a Great Plains species, originally occurring from extreme southern Saskatchewan in Canada (Frenchman River Valley), and Montana south through the western and central Great Plains to the desert grasslands of western Texas, New Mexico, southeastern Arizona (formerly) in the United States, and northeastern Sonora, and northern Chihuahua in Mexico (Koford 1958). The species is now extirpated from southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and locally in many other areas throughout its range.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Cynomys ludovicianus occupies narrow bands of short to mid-grass prairies from central Texas in the south to just north of the Canadian-United States boundary. Historically, the range of black-tailed prairie dogs was greater. They were found from Nebraska in the east to Montana in the west. They ranged from Canada in the north to Mexico in the south. However, intensive efforts at eradication of these animals by ranchers have reduced the species to a few isolated populations associated mainly with protected lands.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

  • Hoffman, R. 1999. Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus). Pp. 445-447 in D Wilson, S Ruff, eds. The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals. Washington, DC and London: The Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Hoogland, J. 1995. The black-tailed prairie dog: Social life of a burrowing mammal. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • Hoogland, J. 1996. Cynomys ludovicianus. Mammalian Species, 535: 1-10.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Year-round

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) This is primarily a Great Plains species, originally occurring from extreme southern Saskatchewan (Frenchman River Valley) and Montana south through the western and central Great Plains to the desert grasslands of western Texas, New Mexico, southeastern Arizona (formerly), northeastern Sonora, and northern Chihuahua (Merriam 1902, Koford 1958). The species is now extirpated from southeastern Arizona (Van Pelt 1992), southwestern New Mexico (Hubbard 1992), and locally in many other areas throughout the range. See Goodwin (1995) for a review of the biogeographic history of prairie dogs.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Range

Found from extreme south-central Canada, through the United States, and into north-eastern Mexico (1) (7).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Physical Description

Morphology

Cynomys ludovicianus varies in length between 352 and 415 mm. Sexual dimorphism is prevalent, with males measuring greater in total length than females (male range: 358 to 415 mm; female range: 352-375 mm). Males also tend to be between 10 and 15% heavier than females, weighing in between 850 and 1,675 g, compared to females which weigh between 705 and 1,050 g. Weight varies seasonally, with both males and females reaching their highest weights in the autumn, and lowest weights in winter.

Black-tailed prairie dogs undergo two molts per year, with slightly different pelage coloration in each molt. The general coloration is brownish to brownish-red dorsally, with whitish fur on the ventrum. During the summer, individual hairs are mixed, with some being banded (black at the base, with a whitish band, then a cinnamon band, followed by a subterminal buff band, and a black tip), and some colored either solid black or half black. The latter type of hairs are longer than banded hairs and are interspersed in the coat. In winter, the banded hairs are different, with black at the base, followed by buff, then cinnamon, and possessing a white tip. Females have 8 grayish mammae that are visible only during pregnancy and lactation.

Black-tailed prairie dogs are easily distinguished from Mexican prairie dogs because of non-overlapping geographic ranges. In addition, C. ludovicianus is easily distinguished from members of the subgenus Leucocrossuromys (including Gunnison's prairie dogs, white-tailed prairie dogs, and Utah prairie dogs). In addition to having mainly non-overlapping ranges, members of Leucocrossuromys all hibernate, have white- to gray-tipped tails, have smaller molars, and possess distinctly different territorial and antipredator vocalizations than do black-tailed prairie dogs.

Range mass: 705 to 1,675 g.

Range length: 352 to 415 mm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger

Average basal metabolic rate: 2.358 W.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Size

Length: 42 cm

Weight: 1360 grams

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Size in North America

Sexual Dimorphism: Males are larger than females.

Length:
Average: 387.8 mm males; 371.2 mm females
Range: 358-429 mm males; 340-400 mm females

Weight:
Average: 907g males; 863 g females
Range: 575-1,490 g males; 765-1,030 g females
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Smithsonian Institution

Source: Smithsonian's North American Mammals

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Ecology

Habitat

Colorado Plateau Shrublands Habitat

This taxon can be found in the Colorado Plateau shrublands, as one of its North American ecoregions of occurrence. The Plateau is an elevated, northward-tilted saucer landform, characterized by its high elevation and arid to semi-arid climate. Known for the Grand Canyon, it exhibits dramatic topographic relief through the erosive action of high-gradient, swift-flowing rivers that have downcut and incised the plateau. Approximately 90 percent of the plateau is drained by the Colorado River and its tributaries, notably the lower catchment of the Green River.

A pinyon-juniper zone is extensive, dominated by a pygmy forest of Pinyon pine (Pinus edulis) and several species of juniper (Juniperus spp). Between the trees the ground is sparsely covered by grama, other grasses, herbs, and various shrubs, such as Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) and Alder-leaf cercocarpus (Cercocarpus montanus).

A montane zone extends over large areas on the high plateaus and mountains, but is much smaller than the pinyon-juniper zone. The montane vegetation varies considerably, from Ponderosa pine in the south to Lodgepole pine and Aspen further north. Northern Arizona contains four distinct Douglas-fir habitat types. The lowest zone has arid grasslands but with many bare areas, as well as xeric shrubs and sagebrush. Several species of cacti and yucca are common at low elevations in the south.

Numerous mammalian species are found within the Colorado Plateau shrublands ecoregion, including the Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus); Long-eared chipmunk (Tamias quadrimaculatus); Utah prairie dog (Cynomys parvidens EN); Yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris); and the Uinta chipmunk (Tamias umbrinus), a burrowing omnivore.

A large number of birds are seen in the ecoregion, with representative taxa: Chestnut-collared longspur (Calcarius ornatus NT); Greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus NT); Northern pygmy owl (Glaucidium gnoma); Cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus).

There are various snakes occurring within the Colorado Plateau, including: Black-necked garter snake (Thamnophis cyrtopsis), usually found in riparian zones; Plains Blackhead snake (Tantilla nigriceps); Black-tailed rattlesnake (Crotalus molossus), who seeks inactivity refuge in rock crevices, animal burrows and even woodrat houses. Other reptiles found here include the Common checkered whiptail (Cnemidophorus tesselatus).

There are only a limited number of anuran taxa on the Colorado Plateau; in fact, the comprehensive occcurrence list for the ecoregion is: Red-spotted toad (Anaxyrus punctatus); Canyon treefrog (Hyla arenicolor); Woodhouse's toad (Anaxyrus woodhousii); Couch's spadefoot toad (Scaphiopus couchii); Northern leopard frog (Lithobates pipiens); Plains spadefoot toad (Spea bombifrons); and Southwestern toad (Anaxyrus microscaphus). The Tiger salamander (Ambystoma tigrinum) is the sole salamander found on the Colorado Plateau shrublands.

The Colorado River fish fauna display distinctive adaptive radiations. The Humpback chub (Gila cypha), for example, is a highly specialized minnow that lives in the upper Colorado. It adapted to the water’s fast current and its extremes of temperature and flow rate. Dams and water diversion, however, have created a series of placid, stillwater lakes and side streams, and the Humpback chub may not be able to adapt to these altered conditions. The species, along with other native Colorado River fishes including the Bonytail (Gila elegans), Squawfish (Ptychocheilus lucius), and the Flannelmouth sucker (Catostomus latipinnis), may not survive much further in time.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© C. Michael Hogan & World Wildlife Fund

Supplier: C. Michael Hogan

Trusted

Article rating from 1 person

Average rating: 5.0 of 5

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Habitat consists of dry, flat or gently sloping, open grasslands with low, relatively sparse vegetation, including areas overgrazed by cattle. The species occurs in open vacant lots at town edges in some areas. Young are born in underground burrows.

Habitat includes all major grassland types - short, mixed and tall; most abundant and an important community member in the Mixed Grass Prairie and Short Grass Plains associations (Carpenter 1940, in Osborn 1942). Tallgrass prairie habitat is mainly areas where wild or domestic ungulates or other disturbance has reduced the stature of the tallgrass; prairie dogs maintain the vegetation in a low stature.

Fine to medium textured soils are preferred (Koford 1958), presumably because burrows and other structures tend to retain their shape and strength better than in coarse, loose soils. However, sandy soils often support larger, coarser graminoids with lower forage quality; prairie dogs may avoid these forages and thus associated sandy areas. Colonies commonly are found on silty clay loams, sandy clay loams, and loams (Agnew et al. 1986). Encroachment into sands (e.g., loamy fine sand) occurs if the habitat is needed for colony expansion (Osborn 1942).

By colonizing areas with low vegetative stature, prairie dogs often select areas with past human (as well as animal) disturbance. In North Dakota and Montana, colonies tended to be associated with areas heavily used by cattle, such as water tanks and long-term supplemental feeding sites (Licht and Sanchez 1993).

Breeding system is harem-polygamous, with most females copulating with one male and males with several females (Hoogland and Folts 1982). Litter size typically averages about four. Individual females produce one litter per year.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Cynomys ludovicianus occupies a relatively restricted range of open, level, arid, short-grass plains. These prairie dogs are commonly found near river flats or in coulee bottomlands where sagebrush, greasewood, and prickly pear grow. They are never found in moist areas.

Range elevation: 1,300 to 2,000 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

  • Nowak, R. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Comments: Habitat consists of dry, flat or gently sloping, open grasslands with low, relatively sparse vegetation, including areas overgrazed by cattle. The species occurs in open vacant lots at town edges in some areas. Young are born in underground burrows.

Habitat includes all major grassland types--short (Bonham and Lerwick 1976), mixed (Coppock et al. 1983), and tall (Osborn 1942); most abundant and an important community member in the Mixed Grass Prairie and Short Grass Plains associations (Carpenter 1940, in Osborn 1942). Tallgrass prairie habitat is mainly areas where wild or domestic ungulates or other disturbance has reduced the stature of the tallgrass; prairie dogs maintain the vegetation in a low stature (Osborn 1942, Koford 1958, Hubbard 1992).

Fine to medium textured soils are preferred (Merriam 1902, Thorp 1949, Koford 1958), presumably because burrows and other structures tend to retain their shape and strength better than in coarse, loose soils. However, sandy soils often support larger, coarser graminoids with lower forage quality; prairie dogs may avoid these forages and thus associated sandy areas (Wedin 1992). Colonies commonly are found on silty clay loams, sandy clay loams, and loams (Thorp 1949, Bonham and Lerwick 1976, Klatt and Hein 1978, Agnew et al. 1986). Encroachment into sands (e.g., loamy fine sand) occurs if the habitat is needed for colony expansion (Osborn 1942).

Shallow slopes of less than 10% are preferred (Koford 1958, Hillman et al. 1979, Dalsted et al. 1981), presumably in part because such areas drain well and are only slightly prone to flooding.

By colonizing areas with low vegetative stature, prairie dogs often select areas with past human (as well as animal) disturbance. In North Dakota and Montana, colonies tended to be associated with areas heavily used by cattle, such as water tanks and long-term supplemental feeding sites (Licht and Sanchez 1993).

See Clippinger (1989) for a habitat suitability index model.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Cover Requirements

More info for the terms: density, forbs, litter

Subterranean burrows created by black-tailed prairie dogs serve as refuges from the external environment and are one of the most important features of black-tailed prairie dog colonies. They are used for breeding, rearing young, and hiding from predators. Burrows are maintained from generation to generation and serve as stabilizers on the physical and social aspects of the colony [75]. Black-tailed prairie dog nests are located underground in burrows and are composed of fine, dried grass. Nest material is collected throughout the year by both sexes and all age classes [69,75]. Tunnel depth of black-tailed prairie dogs in central Oklahoma was typically 4 to 5 feet (50-60 inches) deep [144]. Most black-tailed prairie dog colonies contain 20 to 57 burrows/acre [20,75,81].

There are 3 types of burrow entrances- dome mounds, rimmed crater mounds, and entrances without structures around them. Entrance features may prevent flooding and/or aid in ventilation [69,75,81]. Dome mounds consist of loosely packed subterranean soil spread widely around the entrance of the burrow and tend to be vegetated by prostrate forbs. Rimmed crater mounds are cone-shaped mounds constructed of humus, litter, uprooted vegetation, and mineral soil. Black-tailed prairie dogs compact the soil of these mounds with their noses, creating poor sites for seedling establishment [23]. Rimmed crater mounds may be used as wallowing sites for American bison. Burrow entrances without structures around them are usually located on slopes >10% [75]. The density of black-tailed prairie dog burrow openings depends on both substrate and duration of occupation of an area [81].

Vegetation heights between 3 and 5 inches (7-13 cm) and a slope of 2% to 5% are optimal for detecting predators and facilitating communication amon black-tailed prairie dogs [25,27,37,75,81]. Grazing cattle keep vegetation short in the vicinity of black-tailed prairie dog colonies, reducing susceptibility to black-tailed prairie dog predators and potentially expanding colony size [59,75,81,89]. Black-tailed prairie dogs were rarely seen feeding >16 feet (5 m) from colony edges in Wind Cave National Park [50].

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Preferred Habitat

More info for the terms: cover, density, forbs, graminoid, litter, natural, shrubs, succession

Habitat preferences for the black-tailed prairie dog are influenced by vegetative cover type, slope, soil type, and amount of rainfall [111]. Black-tailed prairie dog foraging and burrowing activities influence environmental heterogeneity, hydrology, nutrient cycling, biodiversity, landscape architecture, and plant succession in grassland habitat [12,22,29,30,48,50,75,81,139,141,146].

Landscape-scale habitat characteristics: Black-tailed prairie dogs inhabit grasslands including short- and mixed-grass prairie, sagebrush steppe, and desert grasslands (see Plant Communities). Shortgrass prairies dominated by buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), and western wheatgrass (Pascopyron smithii) [25,37,59,75,81], and mixed-grass prairies [12,23,25,28,36,45,50,71,99] that have been grazed by native and nonnative herbivores are preferred habitat [79,81]. Slopes of 2% to 5% and vegetation heights between 3 and 5 inches (7-13 cm) are optimal for detecting predators and facilitating communication [25,27,37,75,81].

In the Great Plains region, black-tailed prairie dog colonies commonly occur near rivers and creeks [81]. Of 86 black-tailed prairie dog colonies located in Mellette County, South Dakota, 30 were located on benches or terraces adjacent to a creek or floodplain, 30 occurred in rolling hills with a slope >5%, 20 were in flat areas, and 6 were in badland areas [64]. The slopes of playa lakes in the Texas panhandle and surrounding regions are used as habitat for the black-tailed prairie dog [108,109,110]. Black-tailed prairie dog colonies in Phillips County, Montana, were often associated with reservoirs, cattle salting grounds, and other areas affected by humans [111].

Black-tailed prairie dogs tolerate "high degrees" of disturbance over long periods of time [27,52]. New colonies are rarely created on rangeland that is in "good" to "excellent" condition; however, land that is continually heavily grazed for decades reduces habitat quality due to soil erosion [115]. Black-tailed prairie dogs may colonize heavily grazed sites but do not necessarily specialize in colonizing overgrazed areas. Overgrazing may occur subsequent to black-tailed prairie dog colonization [127]. Black-tailed prairie dogs were associated with areas intensively grazed by livestock and/or areas where topsoil had been disturbed by human activities in sagebrush-grassland habitat on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in northeastern Montana. Roads and cattle trails were found in 150 of 154 black-tailed prairie dog colonies, and colonies were located significantly (P<0.001) closer to livestock water developments and homestead sites than randomly located points [79].

Site-scale habitat characteristics:
Vegetation: Plant community structure and species composition are impacted by black-tailed prairie dog colonization, and are related to the age of the colony and the level of expansion taking place [29,30,128]. Vegetation on black-tailed prairie dog colonies is typically of lower stature [50,75,81,146], and characterized by a higher percentage of bare ground, a higher cover of forbs and/or dwarf shrubs, and lower cover of grasses and larger woody plants than surrounding grassland [7,81,139]. As the black-tailed prairie dog colony ages, forbs and dwarf shrubs may dominate; younger colonies are dominated by grasses [29,141]. Black-tailed prairie dog colonies in Wind Cave National Park consisted of 3 vegetational zones. The interior zone was dominated by forbs, the edge zone was dominated by shortgrasses such as blue grama and buffalo grass, and the outer zone consisted of undisturbed mixed-grass prairie dominated by western wheatgrass, grama (Bouteloua spp.), and needlegrass (Stipa spp.) [50].

Shifts in vegetational structure and composition seem to occur about 10 or more years following initial colonization [23,29]. In a mixed-grass prairie in Badlands National Park, South Dakota, a  buffalo grass-dominated community remained relatively unchanged 4 to 7 years after a colony was established. When cover of shortgrass (primarily buffalo grass) fell below 75%, about 11 to 13 years after colonization, abrupt vegetational changes occurred. Forbs, armed and/or sprawling grasses, aromatic dicots, and bare ground dominated the area [23]. In Wind Cave National Park, changes in relative cover of graminoids, forbs, and dwarf shrubs occurred sometime between 8 and 26 years following black-tailed prairie dog colonization, while a decrease in litter and an increase in bare ground were detectable 1 to 2 years after colonization, as shown in following table [29]:

Ground cover (%) composition before (0 years) and during 26 years of black-tailed prairie dog colonization [29]

Age (years)

0

1 to 2

3 to 8

>26

graminoids 26 26 25 1
forbs and dwarf shrubs 10 7 11 29
total vegetation 36 33 36 30
litter 48 37 39 11
bare ground 16 30 25 59

Plant species diversity was greater on 2 large, rapidly expanding black-tailed prairie dog colonies compared to 2 small colonies with no room for expansion in mixed-grass prairie habitat in Billings County, North Dakota. The most common life form of plants on the 4 colonies was forbs; perennials outnumbered annuals and biennials combined. Graminoid diversity was greater on the large, rapidly expanding black-tailed prairie dog colonies. For a list of the 104 plant species identified, see Stockrahm and others [128].

According to Cid and others [22], the rate of vegetation change after the removal of grazing animals such as black-tailed prairie dogs is influenced by many factors, including grassland type, plant species composition, weather conditions, and prior intensity and duration of grazing [22]. Removal of black-tailed prairie dogs from a landscape by natural or anthropogenic factors could either release suppressed populations of woody plants or provide new habitat for woody plant colonization [4]. The removal of prairie dogs from northern mixed-grass prairies in Badlands National Park, South Dakota, did not result in rapid reestablishment of native vegetation. When seed banks were collected from black-tailed prairie dog colonies, few dominant species typical of mixed-grass prairie germinated in the laboratory compared to seed banks collected off of black-tailed prairie dog colonies. The authors suggested that unless the seed bank is restored, rapid reestablishment of representative mixed-grass prairie would be difficult [45]. In northeastern Colorado, vegetation changes following eradication of black-tailed prairie dogs were relatively minor and did not significantly (P-value not given) improve shortgrass prairie for use by cattle within 5 years. The following Table shows vegetation composition on 1 active and 3 abandoned black-tailed prairie dog colonies in a shortgrass prairie. Plant species in the table were listed only if they had >0.5% cover [77]:

Vegetation cover (%) on active and inactive black-tailed prairie dog colonies [77]

Vegetation Active colony 1 year abandoned 2 years abandoned 5 years abandoned
western wheatgrass 2.3 5.1 6.9 6.7
ring muhly (Muhlenbergia torreyi) 5.5 0.2 9.0 0.7
Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides) ---- ---- ---- 0.6
purple threeawn 2.8 0.4 0.2 0.3
blue grama 20.7 22.8 9.8 22.2
buffalo grass 37.2 32.4 31.9 25.0
perennial grasses (subtotal) 68.5 60.8 57.7 55.2
annual grasses (2 species) ---- 0.1 ---- 0.5
forbs (14 species) 0.1 2.2 0.6 0.4
shrubs/half-shrubs (6 species) 2.1 2.7 1.9 2.0

Total vegetation cover (27 species)

70.7 65.5 60.3 58.3

Other habitat characteristics: Black-tailed prairie dog distribution is not limited by soil type, but by indirect effects of soil texture on moisture and vegetation. Black-tailed prairie dog colonies occur in many types of soil including deep, alluvial soils with medium to fine textures, and occasionally gravel. Soil that is not prone to collapsing or flooding is preferred [81]. Black-tailed prairie dogs do not select specific types of soil to dig burrows [75], but silty loam clay soils are best for tunnel construction [81]. Surface soil textures in black-tailed prairie dog colonies near Fort Collins, Colorado, varied from sandy loam to sandy clay loam in the top 6 inches (15 cm), with a sandy clay loam subsoil [11]. In northern latitudes, black-tailed prairie dog colonies commonly occur on south aspects due to the dominance of grasses over shrubs and increased solar radiation during winter. Burrows usually occur on slopes <10% [81].

Black-tailed prairie dogs mix the soil horizons by raising soil from deeper layers to the surface. This may significantly affect the texture and composition of soil at different layers. Feces, urine, and carcasses of black-tailed prairie dogs also affect soil characteristics [81].

Home range and population density: The home range and territorial boundaries of black-tailed prairie dogs are determined by the area occupied by an individual coterie. Coteries typically occupy about 1.0 acre (0.4 ha) [81].

Population density and growth are influenced by habitat quality [75,111] and are restricted by topographic barriers, soil structure, tall vegetation, and social conditions [75,81]. Urbanization and other types of human development may restrict colony size and spatial distribution [70]. Most plains habitats support at least 13 black-tailed prairie dogs/ha [81]. In a mixed-grass prairie at Wind Cave National Park, black-tailed prairie dog population densities were as follows [75]:

Black-tailed prairie dog density from 1948 to 1950 [75]
Sample date Area of black-tailed prairie dog ward (acres (ha)) Population
(no. of individuals)
Density
(no. of individuals per acre)
July 1948 5.2 (2.1) 44 8.5
July 1949 5.2 28 5.4
March 1950 5.2 21 4.0
May 1950 5.2 78 15.0
July 1950 7.3 (3.0) 82 11.2

Average

5.6 (2.3) 50 8.8

Mortality and emigration are major causes of population declines in black-tailed prairie dog colonies. The number of females >2 years old determines the total number of offspring each year [75]. Black-tailed prairie dogs have higher reproductive rates when the number of adults and yearlings in a population is low. A black-tailed prairie dog colony in Wind Cave National Park fluctuated from 92 to 216 individuals (mean (SD) =132.5 ± 29.3) on 16 acres (6.6 ha) over 14 years. The size of the physical area remained exactly the same over the time period [67].

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Associated Plant Communities

Black-tailed prairie dogs are native to grassland habitats in North America. They inhabit shortgrass prairie [26,53,70,77,91,99], mixed-grass prairie [12,23,25,28,36,45,50,71,99], sagebrush steppe [26,79,104,105], and desert grassland [35,38,89].          

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

The black-tailed prairie dog lives in burrows in dry, short-grass prairies (1).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Trophic Strategy

Black-tailed prairie dogs eat primarily leaves, stems, and roots of grasses, weeds, and forbs. Although vegetable matter comprises over 98% of the diet, animal matter may somteimes be ingested. The animals typically eaten by prairie dogs are grasshoppers, cutworms, bugs, and beetles. Black-tailed prairie dogs do not need to drink water in order to get the moisture they need to survive. They obtain all the moisture they need from their moist, leafy foods. Most prairie dogs forage close to their burrows when possible, moving into distant foraging areas only when forced to do so by local shortages of green shoots.

Cynomys ludovicianus forages selectively from the plants available in its habitat. Diet also varies seasonally. In the summer, black-tailed prairie dogs prefer to feed upon wheatgrass (g. Agopyron), buffalo grass (g. Bromus), grama (g. Bouteloua), rabbitbush (g. Chrusothamnus), and scarlet globmallow. In the winter, they eat prickly pear cactus (g. Opuntia), thistles (g. Cirsium), and various roots.

Animal Foods: insects

Plant Foods: leaves; roots and tubers; wood, bark, or stems; seeds, grains, and nuts; flowers

Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore )

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Comments: Prairie dogs prefer graminoids, focusing their herbivory on leaf bases (Koford 1958, Hansen and Gold 1977, Uresk 1984, Krueger 1986). The proportion of other forage types in the diet varies with season, location on town, and vegetative composition (Koford 1958, Hansen and Gold 1977, Uresk 1984, Krueger 1986, Summers and Linder 1978, Bonham and Lerwick 1976, Fagerstone et al. 1981).

A 950-g prairie dog consumes roughly 2.2 pounds of dry laboratory feed per month, or 26.4 pounds per year (Hansen and Cavender 1973 in Hansen and Gold 1977). In terms of forage consumption, Merriam (1902) and Koford (1958) estimated the number of prairie dogs equivalent to one animal unit (A.U.) to be 256 and 335, respectively. If 300 prairie dogs equal one animal unit in forage consumed, and one A.U. consumes about 30 pounds of forage per day (900 pounds per month), then a prairie dog on a natural diet would consume about 3 pounds per month.

Prairie dogs apparently do not require free water (Merriam 1902, Bintz 1984). Water is obtained from green grass and forb shoots (green grasses contain about 68-77% water) (Bintz 1984), and, in winter, from succulents such as OPUNTIA spp., which are about 80% water (Summers and Linder 1978, Fagerstone et al. 1981).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Food Habits

More info for the terms: forbs, fresh, shrubs

Black-tailed prairie dogs are selective opportunists, preferring certain phenological stages or types of vegetation according to their needs [25,44,75]. When forage is stressed by grazing, drought, or herbicides, black-tailed prairie dogs change their diet quickly [136]. Graminoids are preferred over forbs [59,81]. Diet may consist of ≥75% graminoids, especially during summer [44,59,130,136]. Western wheatgrass, buffalo grass, blue grama [44,75,81,130] and sedges (Carex spp.) are preferred during spring and summer. Scarlet globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea) [12,44,59,75,130] and Russian-thistle (Salsola kali) [73] are preferred during late summer and fall, but are sought out during every season [12,59,81]. During winter, plains prickly pear (Opuntia polyacantha), Russian thistle, and underground roots are preferred [44,75]. Shrubs such as rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.), winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), saltbush (Atriplex spp.), and sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) are also commonly eaten [73]. Water, which is generally not available on the short-grass prairie, is obtained from vegetation [25] such as plains prickly pear [44]. Koford [81] estimated that 1 black-tailed prairie dog eats approximately 7 lbs (3 kg) of herbage per month during summer [73]. Cutworms [73,94], grasshoppers [81,94], and old or fresh American bison scat are occasionally eaten [69]. For a detailed list of foods eaten by black-tailed prairie dogs by month, and ratings of those foods' forage value to cattle and sheep, see Kelso [73]. For a complete list of vegetation preferred by the black-tailed prairie dog, see Roe and Roe [116].

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Associations

Black-tailed prairie dogs play a number of vital roles in their ecosystem. They modify the vegetational community, aerate the soil, provide food and shelter for a number of predators, and provide homes for a number of parasites. Each of these roles has extensive impact on the ecosystem.

Prairie dogs modify the vegetational community in their habitat in two distinct ways. First, and most conspicuous, the vegetation found within prairie dog colonies is dramatically shorter than the vegetation in surrounding areas. Although C. ludovicianus appears to colonize areas where the vegetation is already short, they still actively modify the landscape after colonizing an area. The short vegetation results from a combination of foraging behavior and active trimming by these rodents. Shorter vegetation seems to benefit the prairie dogs by increasing visibility, and presumably, assisting in detection of predators. Second, through some mechanism as yet unknown, the prairie dogs facilitate the growth of certain plants within their communities. Some of these plants are only rarely found on the prairie outside of prairie dog towns.

As a prey species, black-tailed prairie dogs provide food for other animals, including mammals, snakes, and birds of prey. Since they are primary consumers, they provide a vital link in food webs.

Of special note is the relationship between black-footed ferrets and C. ludovicianus. Black-footed ferrets are highly endangered mammals, the near extinction of which was intimately tied to their reliance on prairie dog colonies for food and shelter. Because of the large scale eradication of C. ludovicianus from rangelands, black-footed ferrets were unable to sustain an effective wild population. Although captive breeding of these ferrets has helped to restore the population, their continued survival depends on the availability of prairie dog colonies in which they can live. Some authors have suggested that predation by ferrets has set black-tailed prairie dogs apart from other species in the genus Cynomys, and may account for the higher levels of coloniality and sociality seen in this species.

One of the costs of coloniality that C. ludovicianus faces is a heightened level of parisitism. Black-tailed prairie dogs harbor numerous fleas, lice, and ticks. In addition to the discomfort that these parasites inflict, they infect the prairie dogs with diseases. For example, fleas transmit bubonic plague causing bacteria (Pasturella pestis). Plague, in addition to threatening the prairie dogs, can be transmitted to humans.

Ecosystem Impact: creates habitat; soil aeration ; keystone species

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Black-tailed prairie dogs fall victim to a variety of predatory species. Terrestrial predators include coyotes, badgers, lynx, black-footed ferrets, rattlesnakes, and bullsnakes. Avian predators include prairie falcons, golden eagles, and a variety of hawks (Accipiter and Buteo).

The greatest defense that C. ludovicianus has against predators is exactly the same thing which makes the species so vulnerable to predators; namely, the number of animals living together in a colony. Because there are so many prairie dogs in a single colony, colonies attract the notice of predators. But, because there are so many prairie dogs present, all scanning their environment periodically, predators are readily detected by these rodents. When a predator is noticed, individual prairie dogs give alarm calls, warning their relatives that danger is near. The prairie dogs can then take shelter immediately in one of the many burrows nearby.

Known Predators:

  • coyotes Canis latrans 
  • badgers Taxidea taxus 
  • black-footed ferrets Mustela nigripes 
  • lynx Lynx rufus 
  • bullsnakes Pituophis catenifer sayi 
  • rattlesnakes Crotalus 
  • golden eagles Aquila chrysaetos 
  • prairie falcons Falco mexicanus 
  • hawks Accipiter 
  • hawks Buteo 

Anti-predator Adaptations: aposematic

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Predators

The most common predators of black-tailed prairie dogs are coyotes (Canis latrans) [50,63,69,75], American badgers (Taxidea taxus) [50,63,69,81], bobcats (Lynx rufus) [63,69,75,134], golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) [63,69,75,81,105], ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis) [63,69,92], red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) [10,75], and prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis) [63,75,81]. Although now very rare, black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) were once a major predator of the black-tailed prairie dog [17,61,63,114,121,122,129].

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: > 300

Comments: This species is represented by a very large number of occurrences or subpopulations.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Global Abundance

>1,000,000 individuals

Comments: Total population size in the early 2000s was estimated at between 3,684,000 and 33,156,000; using average density figures, the estimated population was 18,420,000 (USFWS 2004).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

General Ecology

Social Organization

The basic prairie dog family group (the coterie) comprises one adult male (at least 2 years old), three or four adult females, and several yearlings or juveniles (Hoogland and Foltz 1982). Large coteries with two or more males occasionally occur. Females remain in their coterie for life, whereas males usually leave within 12-14 months after weaning. The coterie system deteriorates in spring during gestation and lactation (King 1959). An organizational level higher than the coterie is the ward (King 1959), a town subdivision described according to topographic features.

Population Size Variations

Nonexpanding colonies fluctuate significantly between years under normal conditions (King 1959, Koford 1958, O'Meilia et al. 1982, Powell, unpubl. mans.). Spring counts revealed 252 prairie dogs in one year and 92 four years later (Hoogland et al. 1988). Over a 10-year period, the number of weaned juveniles ranged from 4 to 133. Expanding colonies can grow enormously in a few years, increasing population levels 30 to 295% (Hansen and Gold 1977, Garrett and Franklin 1988, Reading et al. 1989).

Human control efforts and plague cause substantial fluctuations in population size (see later sections for detailed discussions). In areas where immigration of new individuals is successful, genetic variability within a population is not decreased by large population reductions (Daley 1992).

Rates of Mortality

Under normal conditions, without catastrophic factors operating (e.g., plague or severe predation), rates of mortality vary substantially from year to year, both within and between cohorts (King 1959, Koford 1958, Hoogland et al. 1987). First year survival averaged 50-56% for males and females but ranged from 32-79% over a 5-year period (Hoogland et al. 1987). Mortality levels drop greatly after the first year, with males typically living to 3-4 years and females to 4-5 years. King (1955, in Koford 1958) observed 44% mortality in one population, with 36% mortality in the juvenile cohort followed by 22% mortality in the same cohort the following year.

Sources of Mortality

Common sources of mortality: The most common source of mortality currently impacting prairie dogs is unknown. Starvation associated with drought and severe winters and interactions between old age and other mortality factors contribute to mortality (Koford 1958); these probably are very important. In terms of population regulation, sylvatic plague is extremely important where it occurs (see next paragraph).

Disease as a mortality factor: Sylvatic (bubonic) plague is an exotic disease that can kill more than 99% of prairie dogs in a colony (Cully 1989). The plague bacteria YERSINIA PESTIS is transmitted animal-to-animal by infected fleas or contact with infected blood or tissue. The significance of plague in range-wide prairie dog mortality is unclear, though experts agree that where plague occurs it is extremely important in population dynamics (Cully 1992, Brown 1992). Plague may be introduced into a colony by other species or by dispersing prairie dogs, which bring plague-ridden fleas into a colony. Prairie dogs with plague in their bloodstream are very unlikely to introduce plague because the infected animals die quickly (Cully 1992).

Predation as a mortality factor: Historically, the major predators on prairie dogs were primarily the black-footed ferret and the badger (Bailey 1905 in Koford 1958, Koford 1958, Stromberg et al. 1983, Cully 1989). Raptors, snakes, coyotes, foxes, and bobcats all prey upon prairie dogs, but usually at low rates (Koford 1958; Cully 1989; Powell, unpubl. mans.).

Colony Expansion

Colonies expand under force of crowding associated with high survival rates and lack of forage (Koford 1958, Garrett et al. 1982). Off-colony attributes facilitating expansion include high forage availability, forage quality, and deep soils.

Dispersal and New Colonies

Inter-colony dispersal typically occurs from colonies that have reached carrying capacity, though emigration from young expanding colonies does occur (Garrett et al. 1982, Garrett and Franklin 1988). Dispersal occurs in the spring amongst healthy yearling males and adult females, which disperse an average 2.4 km (Garrett and Franklin 1988). In Nebraska, Steuter (1992) found that prairie dogs attempting to establish a new colony were often killed by badgers.

Little is known of the process of new colony initiation. In mixed prairie, prairie dogs may locate and attempt to colonize spots of disturbed land amidst dense grassland (Steuter 1992).

Colony Attributes: Size, Burrow Density, Population Size

Average colony size is typically 20-60 ha, though colonies of less than 10 ha to complexes of several hundred hectares are not uncommon (Bishop and Culbertson 1976, Cheatheam 1977, Clark et al. 1982, Knowles 1986). One C. LEUCURUS colony in Utah covered 958 ha (Clark et al. 1982). Merriam (1902) reported a Texas black-tailed prairie dog colony covering 25,000 square miles. Average burrow density varies widely, from 9/ha to at least 250/ha (Bishop and Culbertson 1976, Clark et al. 1982, Reading et al. 1989). Thirty to 100 burrows per hectare is common. Number of burrow entrances per hectare also varies substantially, with 50-123 a typical range (King 1959).

Density of prairie dogs fluctuates within and between years according to colony demographics, environmental conditions, forage availability, and soil and/or vegetation sites within towns (Koford 1958; Powell, in progress). Typical adult densities are about 12 per ha (Koford 1958; King 1959; Powell, in progress). After young are weaned (and can be counted aboveground), densities of all age classes totaled typically range from 5 to 30 prairie dogs per ha (Koford 1958, Hansen and Gold 1977, Knowles 1982 in Knowles 1986, O'Meilia et al. 1982). In three consecutive years, King (1959) noted densities in July on the same site to change from 22 to 14 to 41 prairie dogs per hectare.

Burrow Systems

In a study of 18 burrow systems Sheets et al. (1971) found the burrows ranging from 3 to 14 feet deep and 13 to 109 feet long, with tunnel diameter of 4-5 inches. Passageway plugs are used to inhibit predators, to compartmentalize and block off waste, or when the burrow system is under remodeling (Smith 1958 in Burns et al. 1989, Sheets et al. 1971, Martin et al. 1984, Burns et al. 1989).

Prairie dogs are, or were, a major ecological presence on the Great Plains, with a number of species intimately associated with their large towns. Now, they "may be as functionally extinct as the bison" (M. Gilpin, pers. comm. in Miller and Cully 2001).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Habitat-related Fire Effects

More info for the terms: cover, fire regime, fire severity, frequency, high-severity fire, low-severity fire, natural, prescribed burn, prescribed fire, severity, shrub, shrubs, wildfire

As of 2007, little information is available on HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS for the black-tailed prairie dog. Despite the lack of information, some generalizations may be possible based on their habitat requirements. Black-tailed prairie dogs inhabit grasslands including short-grass [26,53,70,77,91,99] and mixed-grass prairie [12,23,25,28,36,45,50,71,99], sagebrush steppe [26,79,104,105], and desert grassland [35,38,89] (see Plant Communities). The effects of fire on grasslands vary with plant community, season, weather patterns, and fire characteristics [74,83,137,149]. Information on black-tailed prairie dog ecology in sagebrush steppe and desert grasslands is sparse. The following information is from short- and mixed-grass prairie habitat. For more information on fire regime characteristics of other potential black-tailed prairie dog habitat, see the table below.

The nutrient content of grassland plants in various grassland habitat types around the world is typically higher following fire [34], and herbivores such as deer (Odocoileus spp.) seek postburn areas [138]. Black-tailed prairie dogs may also seek postburn areas for foraging. Due to the prairie dog's reliance on grass for food, low- to medium-severity fires may be beneficial, while high-severity fire may have negative impacts on the black-tailed prairie dog in the short-term.

Prairie: Blue grama, buffalo grass, and western wheatgrass are dominant grasses in shortgrass prairie and are favorite foods of black-tailed prairie dogs (see Food habits) [44,75,81,130]. Fire generally favors blue grama [2,5,41,125], and either favors or has no long-term effect on buffalo grass [143,147] and western wheatgrass [40,42,51,52]. The effects of fire on these 3 grass species vary depending on the phenological stage, season of burning, fire severity, and/or postfire weather conditions [142,148]. For more information about the effects of fire on the 3 grass species favored by black-tailed prairie dogs, see the FEIS reviews for blue grama, buffalo grass, western wheatgrass.

Blue grama [2,5,41,125], buffalo grass [143,147], and western wheatgrass [40,42,51,52] are generally favored by spring burning, which increases their frequency, biomass, and cover [40,42,62,72,76,100,142]. Spring (April) prescribed burning in mixed-grass prairie in Badlands National Park, South Dakota, favored buffalo grass. Buffalo grass began vegetative expansion and produced seed during the first growing season after fire [142]. Gartner and White [51] report that late spring and early summer burns can cause increases or decreases in western wheatgrass during the 1st growing season, but no difference between preburn and control was evident by the 2nd growing season in mixed-grass prairie communities. In the 1st and 2nd growing seasons following a spring burn in Nebraska mixed-grass prairie, blue grama experienced a significant increase (p<0.10) in basal cover on burned plots compared to unburned plots [119]. On sites in South Dakota, blue grama increased from 4% to 11% cover in the 1st growing season following a spring prescribed burn and increased from 12% to 18% cover during the 2nd growing season [41]. Following early spring prescribed burning in Texas, blue grama yield increased up to 400 lbs/acre (452 kg/ha) in the 1st growing season [147].

According to a 1980 review, during years of normal or higher than normal precipitation, timing of vegetational regrowth is quicker [60,135,147]. During dry years, grasses on the shortgrass prairie are harmed by fire [148]. In a buffalo grass-blue grama community in Hays, Kansas, it took vegetation 3 growing seasons to recover following a spring wildfire when the soil was drier than normal [86].

Fire may favor black-tailed prairie dog colony expansion if it removes woody shrubs and other visual obstructions. Prescribed burning during spring followed by mechanical brush removal in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Dakota, resulted in colony expansion into treated areas. Three active black-tailed prairie dog colony sites were chosen for the study: Peaceful Valley, 23.1 acres (9.34 ha); Mike Auney, 65.0 acres (26.3 ha); and Johnson's Plateau, 86.7 acres (35.1 ha). Adjacent to each active colony was a 4.9 acre (2.0 ha) treatment unit and a 4.9 acre control unit. The plant community was not described but was probably either shortgrass or mixed-grass prairie. The treatment units were burned in May 2002. The burns were patchy and incomplete, so mechanical brush removal was used to compensate for the incomplete burning. Over a 1.5 year period, black-tailed prairie dogs expanded their colonies into treated plots significantly (P<0.001) more than control plots. In the 3 treatment plots, there was an average of 335 new burrows and a mean 50.3% expansion in area, compared to 69 new burrows and a mean 1.6% expansion in control plots [98]:

Number of new black-tailed prairie dog burrows and area of colony expansion in treatment and control plots [98]

  September 2002 (4 mo postfire) September 2003 (16 mo postfire)
  Burning and mechanical brush removal Control Burning and mechanical brush removal Control
New black-tailed prairie dog burrows
Peaceful Valley 192 (419)ª 40 (141) 458 (685) 41 (142)
Mike Auney 315 (528) 86 (135) 358 (434) 116 (165)
Johnson's Plateau 138 (304) 54 (110) 191 (357) 50 (106)
mean (± 1 SE) all colonies 215 ± 52.4 60 ± 13.6 335 ± 77.9 69 ± 23.6
Area of expansion (ha)
Peaceful Valley 0.89 0 1.56 -0.05
Mike Auney 1.26 0 1.09 0.10
Johnson's Plateau 0.62 0 0.31 -0.05
mean (± 1 SE) all colonies 0.92 ± 0.19 0 0.99 ± 0.36 0.001 ± 0.047
ª Numbers in parentheses are total number of burrows, including burrows present in the active black-tailed prairie dog colony encompassed by plot margins before experimental manipulations in 2002.

Moderate amounts of disturbance appeared to increase plant species diversity in a mixed-grass prairie in Comanche County, Oklahoma. Plant species diversity and richness were compared in 7 treatments containing combinations of large scale, low-severity prescribed fires, light grazing by cattle, severe grazing by black-tailed prairie dogs, and wallowing by American bison. Treatments were not replicated, so significance of differences between treatments was not assessed. The 2 sites with the highest plant species diversity and richness were those with combinations of low- to moderate- severity disturbances (see table below). Plant diversity and richness was lowest on undisturbed study sites, sites that were burned frequently, and severely disturbed sites containing black-tailed prairie dogs [28]:

Plant diversity and richness in 7 undisturbed and disturbed mixed-grassland sites [28]

Treatment

Undisturbed area Lightly grazed by cattle Lightly grazed by cattle, American bison wallows Frequent, low-severity prescribed fire Low-severity prescribed fire, lightly grazed by cattle Low-severity prescribed fire, lightly grazed by cattle, American bison wallows Severe grazing by black-tailed prairie dogs
Diversity
(exp H')
8.67 13.73 18.1 7.01 10.79 14.61 11.10
Richness
(no. species per 1.2 acres (0.5 ha))
45.0 64.0 58.0 33.0 52.0 61.0 47.0

The following table provides fire regime information on vegetation communities in which black-tailed prairie dogs may occur, based on the habitat characteristics and species composition of communities black-tailed prairie dogs are known to occupy. There is not conclusive evidence that black-tailed prairie dogs occur in all the habitat types listed, and some community types, especially those used rarely, may have been omitted.

Fire regime information on vegetation communities in which the black-tailed prairie dog may occur. For each community, fire regime characteristics are taken from the LANDFIRE Rapid Assessment Vegetation Models [85]. These vegetation models were developed by local experts using available literature, local data, and/or expert opinion as documented in the PDF file linked from the name of each Potential Natural Vegetation Group listed below. Cells are blank where information is not available in the Rapid Assessment Vegetation Model.
Southwest Great Basin Northern Rockies
Northern Great Plains South-central US
Southwest
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
Southwest Grassland
Desert grassland Replacement 85% 12    
Surface or low 15% 67    
Desert grassland with shrubs and trees Replacement 85% 12    
Mixed 15% 70    
Shortgrass prairie Replacement 87% 12 2 35
Mixed 13% 80    
Shortgrass prairie with shrubs Replacement 80% 15 2 35
Mixed 20% 60    
Shortgrass prairie with trees Replacement 80% 15 2 35
Mixed 20% 60    
Plains mesa grassland Replacement 81% 20 3 30
Mixed 19% 85 3 150
Plains mesa grassland with shrubs or trees Replacement 76% 20    
Mixed 24% 65    
Southwest Shrubland
Southwestern shrub steppe Replacement 72% 14 8 15
Mixed 13% 75 70 80
Surface or low 15% 69 60 100
Mountain sagebrush (cool sage) Replacement 75% 100    
Mixed 25% 300    
Great Basin
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
Great Basin Grassland
Great Basin grassland Replacement 33% 75 40 110
Mixed 67% 37 20 54
Great Basin Shrubland
Basin big sagebrush Replacement 80% 50 10 100
Mixed 20% 200 50 300
Wyoming big sagebrush semidesert Replacement 86% 200 30 200
Mixed 9% >1,000 20 >1,000
Surface or low 5% >1,000 20 >1,000
Wyoming sagebrush steppe Replacement 89% 92 30 120
Mixed 11% 714 120  
Mountain big sagebrush Replacement 100% 48 15 100
Mountain sagebrush (cool sage) Replacement 75% 100    
Mixed 25% 300    
Northern Rockies
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
Northern Rockies Grassland
Northern prairie grassland Replacement 55% 22 2 40
Mixed 45% 27 10 50
Northern Rockies Shrubland
Wyoming big sagebrush Replacement 63% 145 80 240
Mixed 37% 250    
Basin big sagebrush Replacement 60% 100 10 150
Mixed 40% 150    
Mountain big sagebrush steppe and shrubland Replacement 100% 70 30 200
Northern Great Plains
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
Northern Plains Grassland
Northern mixed-grass prairie Replacement 67% 15 8 25
Mixed 33% 30 15 35
Southern mixed-grass prairie Replacement 100% 9 1 10
South-central US
Vegetation Community (Potential Natural Vegetation Group) Fire severity* Fire regime characteristics
Percent of fires Mean interval
(years)
Minimum interval
(years)
Maximum interval
(years)
South-central US Grassland
Desert grassland Replacement 82% 8    
Mixed 18% 37    
Southern shortgrass or mixed-grass prairie Replacement 100% 8 1 10
South-central US Shrubland
Southwestern shrub steppe Replacement 76% 12    
Mixed 24% 37    
*Fire Severities:
Replacement=Any fire that causes greater than 75% top removal of a vegetation-fuel type, resulting in general replacement of existing vegetation; may or may not cause a lethal effect on the plants.
Mixed=Any fire burning more than 5% of an area that does not qualify as a replacement, surface, or low-severity fire; includes mosaic and other fires that are intermediate in effects.
Surface or low=Any fire that causes less than 25% upper layer replacement and/or removal in a vegetation-fuel class but burns 5% or more of the area [58,84].

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Direct Effects of Fire

More info for the terms: fire severity, severity

There are no reports of direct black-tailed prairie dog mortality due to fire. Burrows may protect them, depending on fire severity [37].

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Timing of Major Life History Events

More info for the terms: altricial, density, litter, parturition

Age of first reproduction, pregnancy rate, litter size, juvenile growth rate, and first-year survivorship of the black-tailed prairie dog vary depending on food availability [50].

Mating: Minimum breeding age for the black-tailed prairie dog is usually 2 years [69,75,81], but yearlings may breed if space and food are abundant [75,81]. In Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, 40% (n=213) of yearling females copulated and 9% successfully weaned a litter [66].

The mating season occurs from late February through April, but varies with latitude and site location of a black-tailed prairie dog colony [75,81]. Estrus occurs for only 1 day during the breeding season [66].

Reproductive success: In Wind Cave National Park, the mean percentage of adult females that weaned a litter each year was 47% ± 14% SD (range 30% to 73% over 10 years) [67]. Reproductive success and survival may be greater in young black-tailed prairie dog colonies that have space for expansion. In a young colony (@5 years) with space for expansion in Wind Cave National Park, 88% females were pregnant and 81% of young weaned, compared to an old colony (@30 years) with no room for expansion, where 90% of females were pregnant and 41% of young were weaned [50].

Gestation period and litter size: Black-tailed prairie dog gestation is 34 days [69,75]. Parturition occurs underground. Information about litter size at time of birth is unavailable [65]. Mean litter size observed aboveground ranges from 3.0 to 4.9 young/litter [66,67,75,81]. Only 1 litter is produced each year [66,67].

Development: In captivity, black-tailed prairie dog pups open their eyes at 30 days old [75]. Pups are altricial and remain below ground for @7 weeks to nurse [66,75,81]. Maturity is complete at 15 months old [75]. Lifespan of the black-tailed prairie dog in the wild is unknown, but males >3 years old experience high mortality. Females may live longer than males [75]. According to Hoogland and others [67], lifespan is about 5 years for males and 7 years for females.

Social organization: Black-tailed prairie dogs live in colonies. Colony size may range from 5 to thousands of individuals. Colonies are subdivided into 2 or more wards, based on topographic features, such as hills. Wards are usually subdivided into 2 or more coteries, which are composed of aggregates of highly territorial, harem-polygynous social groups [75,81]. Individuals within coteries are amicable with each other and hostile towards non-coterie individuals [49,75]. At the beginning of the breeding season, a coterie is typically composed of 1 adult male, 3 to 4 adult females, and several yearlings and juveniles of both sexes [31,75]. After the breeding season and prior to dispersal of juveniles, coterie size increases [31,75].

Habits: Black-tailed prairie dogs are diurnal [69,75,81]. Aboveground activity is reduced when rain or snow is falling and during days when the temperature exceeds 100 °F (38° C) [75,81]. They do not hibernate [61] but may become dormant for short periods [66,75,81].

Dispersal: Reasons for dispersal include new vegetative growth at colony peripheries, shortage of unrelated females in a coterie, harassment of females by juveniles, and probably an innate genetic mechanism responding to increased density within a colony [49]. Males typically leave the natal territory 12 to 14 months after weaning, during May and June [67], but dispersal may occur throughout the year [49]. Females generally remain in their natal coterie territories for their lifetime. Intercolony dispersers moved an average distance of 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from their natal site [67]. Roads and trails may facilitate black-tailed prairie dog dispersal [81].

Mortality: Major mortality factors include predation (see Predators), disease, infanticide, habitat loss, poisoning, trapping, and shooting [26,66,67,69,69]. Survivorship for the first year was 54% for females and <50% for males in Wind Cave National Park. Primary causes of death were predation and infanticide [66]. Infanticide partially or totally eliminated 39% (n=361) of all litters. Lactating females were the most common killers [66]. Mortality of young was highest due to heavy predation during the winter and early spring following birth [75]. Mortality increases with dispersal from a colony or coterie [81].

Sylvatic plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, can quickly eliminate entire black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Once infected, death occurs within a few days [26,69]. Black-tailed prairie dogs are also susceptible to diseases transmitted by "introduced animals" (species not identified) [13,14].

Human-caused mortality of black-tailed prairie dogs is discussed in Management considerations.

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication within C. ludovicianus as been well studied. As might be expected from such a highly social species, means of communication are varied. Black-tailed prairie dogs have 12 distinct calls, including antipredator calls, and the conspicuous "jump-yip", in which an individual stretches to its full height on hind legs, then throws the forefeet into the air as it calls. The jump-yip call of one individual seems to excite other members of the coterie, as well as individuals in adjacent coteries, into producing their own "jump-yip" calls.

In addition to vocal communication, C. ludovicianus employs physical contact (grooming, nuzzeling, playing, fighting), as well as visual signals for communication. Sniffing of other individuals occurs, and implies some chemical communication, especially in the context of mating.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Cyclicity

Comments: May reduce activity in winter, but torpor was not observed in any season in a field study in Colorado (Bakko et al. 1989). In summer, active during day, but rests in burrows during the hottest part of day and at night. In summer spends about 1/3-1/2 of day feeding.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Life Expectancy

As is true for most mammals, most black-tailed prairie dogs die young. Only 54% of females and 47% of males who emerge from their natal burrows survive their first year of life. Females can live to be up to eight years old, whereas males don't tend to live longer than 5 years under natural conditions.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
8 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
1 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
8.5 years.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 11 years (captivity) Observations: In the wild, females may live up to 8 years and males up to 5 years (Hoogland 1996). One captive specimen lived for 11 years (Richard Weigl 2005).
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Joao Pedro de Magalhaes

Source: AnAge

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Reproduction

Mating is closely related to social structure in these animals. The typical mating pattern is polygynous, with a single male mating with multiple females in his home coterie. However, in some cases, more than one male may be resident in a single, large coterie. In these cases, females within the coterie may mate with both resident males. In such cases, the first male to copulate with the female sires more offspring than does the second. Additionally, there appears to be some communal nursing of young after the time they appear above ground, qualifying the species for status as a cooperative breeder.

Mating System: polygynous ; polygynandrous (promiscuous) ; cooperative breeder

Reproduction occurs once per year, with the exact timing of mating varying with latitude. In Oklahoma, breeding takes place in January; in Colorado breeding takes place in February. Between late February and March,balck-tailed prairie dogs in South Dakota breed. Finally, those animals residing in the northern portions of the species range breed in late March and early April. Females of this species are typically sexually receptive only one day of the year. Females failing to conceive after this initial estrus sometimes enter estrus a second time about 13 days after their first estrus.

Approximately 98% of matings in C. ludovicianus occur underground. This probably helps to reduce intermale competition for females. Several behaviors are associated with mating both underground and above ground. These include frequent entrance of a breeding male and estrus female into the same burrow; very high frequency of interaction between the male and female; self licking of genitals in both male and female; gathering of nesting materials by males, and transport of those materials into a burrow; and a later than normal nighttime entrance into the burrow by estrus females. In additon, male black-tailed prairie dogs have a unique vocalization that is associated only with mating behaviors.

Gestation ranges in length from 33 to 38 days, with a mean of 34.6 days. Litter sizes ate birth range from 1 to 8 young, with a mean litter size at emergence from the burrow of 3 young. Young are altricial, being born blind, naked, and mostly helpless. Neonates measure approximately 70 mm in length, and weigh an average of 15 g. Fur is evident by the age of 3 weeks, and eyes are open by approximately 5 weeks of age. The age at weaning varies with litter size, as larger litters nurse longer than smaller litters. Lactation lasts from 37 to 51 days, with a mean of 41.3 days. The termination of lactation occurs shortly after emergence from the natal burrow, and after emergence but prior to the end of lactation, pups may nurse from females other than their own mother.

Sexual dimorphism in size is already established by the time juveniles emerge from tehir natal burrows. Males weigh an average of 147 g at emergence and females weigh an average of 141 g. By October, males have acheived an average weight of 556 g, and females an average of 532 g.

Females remain in their natal coterie for life, but males disperse as yearlings. This results in minimization of inbreeding. Also, adult males rarely remain within the same coterie for more than two breeding seasons, thus reducing the possibility that they will mate with their female offspring.

The age of sexual maturity varies. Although most black-tailed prairie dogs copulate for the first time as two-year-olds, some reach maturity earlier or later. Among females, 35% breed as yearlings, 60% breed as two-year-olds, and 5% delay reproduction until they are 3 years old. Males show sexual asymmetry, being less likely than females to breed as yearlings, and more likely than females to dely reproduction until their third year. Among males, 6% breed as yearling, 70% as two-year-olds, and 24% breed in their third year.

Female C. ludovicianus who mate do not always produce litters. Successful reproduction is positively related to female age. Only 54% of yearling females who copulate subsequently give birth, compared to 89% of females over the age of 2 years who copulated. Failure to give birth results from both failure of conception, resorption of embryos, and miscarriage of pregnancies.

Breeding interval: Females of this species are able to breed once per year.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs between January and April, depending upon latitude.

Range number of offspring: 1 to 6.

Average number of offspring: 3.

Range gestation period: 33 to 38 days.

Average gestation period: 34.6 days.

Range weaning age: 27 to 51 days.

Average weaning age: 41.3 days.

Range time to independence: 1 to 2 years.

Average time to independence: 1 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 to 3 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 to 3 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous ; oviparous

Average birth mass: 15.75 g.

Average number of offspring: 4.

Cynomys lodovicianus pups are altricial. They require a large investment by parents in order to ensure their survival. Males are not directly involved in caring for young, but help to protect pups within their coteries by defending the coterie against strange males. The bulk of parental care is provided by females, who nurse, groom, and protect their offspring. Because of the prevalance of infanticide in this species, young are very vulnerable prior to emergence from their natal burrows. After emergence from the burrow, however, young are less vulnerable. They eat solid foods primarily, although they continue to nurse for about one week. Interestingly, females in the coterie frequently nurse emergent pups other than their own offspring.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Protecting: Male, Female); post-independence association with parents; inherits maternal/paternal territory

  • Hoogland, J. 1995. The black-tailed prairie dog: Social life of a burrowing mammal. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • Hoogland, J. 1996. Cynomys ludovicianus. Mammalian Species, 535: 1-10.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Breeding system is harem-polygynous, with most females copulating with one male and males with several females (Hoogland and Foltz 1982). Females achieve estrous as early as the second week in March in Montana (Knowles 1987), March 1 in Colorado (Koford 1958), and the third week in January in Oklahoma (Anthony and Foreman 1951 in Koford 1958). Females are in estrous for several hours of only one day per year (Hoogland and Foltz 1982). Gestation averages 35 days (Hoogland 1985, Knowles 1987). Though almost all adult females achieve estrous and many become pregnant, juvenile mortality is high with only one half of copulating females weaning a litter (Hoogland and Foltz 1982). Minimum breeding age usually is two years for both sexes (Hoogland 1985, Knowles 1987). In Montana, most yearlings do not breed, but incidence of breeding among yearlings may reflect food abundance rather than age.

Litter size typically averages about 4 (Knowles 1987) (3 in yearlings, 5 in older females) (Koford 1958). Vegetation condition does not necessarily affect litter size, with adults producing an average litter size of 4.3 on "fair" rangeland and 5.7 on "severely depleted" rangeland (Koford 1958), but relatively large and small littes may follow high and low rainfall, respectively. Individual females produce one litter per year.

Pups stay underground until weaned (Hoogland 1985). Pups appear above ground in about 5-8 weeks (mid-May to early June in Montana). In the field, Hoogland (1985) found that the pups are weaned (and first emerge from burrows) at about 43 days. In the laboratory, weaning occurs at about 60 days (Johnson 1927). Due to forage availability and stress associated with crowding, the number of weaned juveniles increases as the number of adults and yearlings decreases, and vice-versa (Hoogland et al. 1987).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Burrow shape creates ventilation: prairie dog
 

Burrows of black-tailed prairie dogs create own ventilation by causing a lower air pressure that pulls stale air out of the burrow.

   
  "Where a fluid flows across a surface, such as wind over the earth, the velocity gradient created provides a potential source of work. This gradient might be employed by one burrowing animal to induce air-flow in its long, narrow burrow. The burrow of the black-tailed prairie-dog constitutes a respiratory dead-space of extraordinary magnitude in which diffusion appears inadequate for gas exchange. But the burrow is arranged in a manner appropriate for wind-induced ventilation, typically with two openings at opposite ends and with mounds surrounding these openings of two forms (Fig. 3), with one form on each end. When a breeze crosses the mounds, air enters the burrow through the lower mound and leaves through the higher. The same unidirectional flow is evident with scale models of real mounds on a model burrow in a wind tunnel; flow inside the burrow is nearly a linear function of flow across the mounds (Fig. 4). Wind-induced ventilation in the model burrow could also be induced with model mounds differing in shape but not height. Mounds with sharp rims were more effective exits for air than mounds with rounded tops; in nature such shape differences complement the differences in height." (Vogel et al. 1973: 1)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Vogel, S.; Ellington, C. P.; Kilgore, D. L. 1973. Wind-induced ventilation of the burrow of the prairie-dog, Cynomys ludovicianus. Journal of Comparative Physiology A: Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology. 85(1): 1-14.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© The Biomimicry Institute

Source: AskNature

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Cynomys ludovicianus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Barcode of Life Data Systems

Source: Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD)

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Linzey, A.V. & NatureServe (Reichel, J.D., Hammerson, G., Cannings, S. & Wallace, R.)

Reviewer/s
Amori, G., Koprowski, J. & Roth, L. (Small Nonvolant Mammal Red List Authority)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern because it is very widespread, there are estimated to be millions of individuals, and its populations are not declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a threatened category. Although it has declined in many parts of its range, there are parts of its range where they are not affected by any threats at present.

History
  • 2000
    Lower Risk/near threatened (LR/nt)
  • 1996
    Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • 1996
    Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Historically, prairie dogs were villified by ranchers, and efforts were made to erradicate entire populations. Although not as common as they once were, many prairie dog colonies persist in protected areas.

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure

Reasons: Relatively large range in the plains region of central North America; many occurrences and large population size (millions), but extent of occupied habitat and abundance have been reduced from historical levels by about 98 percent; overall, threats are rated as moderate and not as serious as previsouly believed; long-term trend outlook is one of slow decline. The species appears to be secure but at a greatly reduced level.

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Moderately vulnerable

Comments: Reproduce slowly (for a rodent) and survivorship is low (see Ecology Comments), despite popular belief (Hoogland 2001).

Environmental Specificity: Moderate. Generalist or community with some key requirements scarce.

Other Considerations: The Great Plains ecosystem evolved with bison, prairie dogs, and fire as major forces/processes; bison and fire are effectively gone, and the prairie dog is vastly reduced. The black-tailed prairie dog is a keystone species upon which many other prairie species depend, but now "may be as functionally extinct as the bison" (M. Gilpin, pers. comm. in Miller and Cully 2001). Black-footed ferret (MUSTELA NIGRIPES, G1) is almost completely dependent on prairie dogs for food. Mountain plover (CHARADRIUS MONTANUS, G2), burrowing owl (SPEOTYTO CUNICULARIA, G4), ferruginous hawk (BUTEO REGALIS, G4), and swift fox (VULPES VELOX, G3) are among those animals that are found in greatest numbers on prairie dog towns. The highly fragmented nature of the Great Plains makes dispersal and gene flow between populations problematic.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Status

Near Threatened.
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Smithsonian Institution

Source: Smithsonian's North American Mammals

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Status

Classified as Lower Risk / Near Threatened (LR/nt) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (3).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Population

Population
The total population size in the early 2000s was estimated at between 3,684,000 and 33,156,000; using average density figures, the estimated population was 18,420,000 (USFWS 2004).

This species is represented by a very large number of occurrences or subpopulations. Most occurrences are represented by relatively small populations, and it is unknown how many are viable in the long term, but certainly there are at least several dozen occurrences with good viability.

Currently, the species is declining in some areas, increasing in others; overall trend at present is probably stable or slightly decreasing, with a long-term outlook of slow decline (USFWS 2002). A small stable population exists in Canada (USFWS 2004). Range and abundance appear to be relatively stable in Mexico in recent decades (USFWS 2004).

Area of occupancy has been reduced from about 40 million hectares historically to about 766,400 hectares (USFWS 2004), a decline of about 98 per cent. Range contractions have occurred in the southwestern portion of the range in Arizona, western New Mexico, and western Texas through conversion of grasslands to desert shrublands; in the eastern portion of the range, range contractions are largely due to habitat destruction through cropland development in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas (USFWS 2004). Approximately 37 per cent of the historical habitat has been converted to cropland, now generally unavailable due to continuous disturbance.

Prairie dog towns formerly were much larger than at present. For example, one town in central Oklahoma stretched 35 km (Tyler 1968). In 1998, maximum town size in Oklahoma was 427 ha; length 2.1 km) (Lomolino and Smith 2001).

Density of prairie dogs fluctuates within and between years according to colony demographics, environmental conditions, forage availability, and soil and/or vegetation sites within towns (Koford 1958). Typical adult densities are about 12 per hectare (Koford 1958).

Population Trend
Decreasing
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable to decline of 30%

Comments: Currently, the species is declining in some areas, increasing in others; overall trend at present is probably stable or slightly decreasing, with a long-term outlook of slow decline (USFWS 2002).

A small stable population exists in Canada (Laing, 1988 COSEWIC report; USFWS 2004). Range and abundance appear to be relatively stable in Mexico in recent decades (USFWS 2004).

Global Long Term Trend: Decline of >90%

Comments: Area of occupancy has been reduced from about 40 million hectares historically to about 766,400 hectares (USFWS2004), a decline of about 98 per cent.

Range contractions have occurred in the southwestern portion of the range in Arizona, western New Mexico, and western Texas through conversion of grasslands to desert shrublands; in the eastern portion of the range, range contractions are largely due to habitat destruction through cropland development in Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas (see USFWS 2004). Approximately 37 percent of the historical habitat has been converted to cropland, now generally unavailable due to continuous disturbance.

Prairie dog towns formerly were much larger than at present. For example, one town in central Oklahoma stretched 35 km (Strong 1960, Tyler 1968). In 1998, maximum town size in Oklahoma was 427 ha; length 2.1 km) (Lomolino and Smith 2001).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Threats

Major Threats
Threats fall into four main categories. 1) Exotic disease, particularly sylvatic plague (Yersinia pestis) to which prairie dogs are highly susceptible. 2) Loss of habitat to agriculture and urbanization. 3) Habitat fragmentation and its many effects. 4) Control activities by government, private organizations, and individuals via poisoning and shooting.

EXOTIC SPECIES/DISEASE: Sylvatic plague was introduced to North America around 1899 (Cully 1989) and first reported in black-tailed prairie dogs from Texas in the mid-1940s (Reading et al. 1989). It is a serious threat given its pervasiveness and efficacy, as it can kill more than 99% of prairie dogs in a colony (Cully 1989), and numbers do not appear to fully recover (USFWS 2002). Though prairie dogs have persisted in the presence of plague since about 1900 and prairie dog numbers are high given habitat loss and control efforts, plague is still of concern to local populations and for long-term persistence. Plague is not well documented in black-tailed prairie dogs across their range though there is no reason to believe that plague is not as significant in black-tailed as it is in white-tailed prairie dogs (Cully 1992). On large areas originally selected as possible ferret reintroduction sites, declines of up to 90 per cent from about 1985-2000 are "generally attributed to sylvatic plague" (USFWS 2000). Only about 10 percent of the historical range is both plague-free and available (not cropland) (USFWS 2000). Widespread outbreaks in 2001 may indicate the beginning of an 'up' cycle in plague occurrence (USFWS 2002). The significance of plague in range-wide prairie dog mortality is unclear, though experts agree that where plague occurs it is extremely important in population dynamics (Cully 1992). Plague may be introduced into a colony by other species or by dispersing prairie dogs, which bring plague-ridden fleas into a colony.

USFWS (2004) noted that: (1) High exposure doses of plague bacilli may be necessary for disease contraction in some individuals; (2) limited immune response has been observed in some individuals; (3) a population dynamic may have developed in low-density, isolated populations that contributes to the persistence of these populations; (4) the apparent ability of some sites to recover to pre-plague levels after a plague epizootic; and (5) approximately one-third of the species' historic range has not been affected by plague. Based on this and on recent estimates of occupied habitat, USFWS (2004) concluded that plague no longer appears to be as significant a threat as previously thought and that plague in combination with other factors is not likely to cause the black-tailed prairie dog to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.

HABITAT LOSS AND DEGRADATION: Habitat loss has been an important factor in prairie dog declines in the past. Cheatheam (1977) estimated that about 36% of the land area in regions used by prairie dogs was covered by water developments, urban expansion, cropland, and improved pasture. Similarly, Bishop and Culbertson (1976) detected extensive colony loss on river terraces as a result of farming activities. Conversion of native prairie to farmland does not necessarily represent habitat loss to prairie dogs, but farmers will not tolerate prairie dogs in their fields (Merriam 1902). Similarly, prairie dogs prosper in empty urban lots and fields, yet this is not often tolerated given the plague risk. However, in New Mexico, urban (Gunnison's) prairie dogs are often allowed to remain because colony fleas are killed instead. Still, developments that destroy patches of grassland (e.g., roads, buildings, water impoundments) result in loss of potential prairie dog habitat and restriction of area for colony expansion.

USFWS (2004) concluded that present or threatened habitat destruction is not a threat to the species, although considerable effects due to this factor have occurred in the past. Additionally, USFWS concluded that present or threatened habitat modification as it relates to plague is not a significant threat to the species.

CONTROL: Control by humans, interacting with low forage production, is probably the main cause of loss of the prairie dog from the more arid parts of its range, including southwest New Mexico and southeast Arizona (Cully 1992) and Texas (see map in Cheatheam 1977). For most of the 20th century, Animal Damage Control, its forerunners, and other control agencies worked hard to eliminate prairie dogs over wide areas (Cully 1992). Towns were poisoned primarily with strychnine and zinc-phosphide baits (e.g., oats mixed with rodenticide). Poisoning was immediately followed up with extermination of any remaining living prairie dogs (Cully 1992). Indeed, control efforts, with some help from plague, resulted in a reduction in prairie dog acreage from 700,000,000 to 1,500,000 in 1971 (Cain et al. 1971, in Fagerstone and Biggins 1986; Cully 1989). Today prairie dog poisoning efforts are limited to local, problem populations and entail control, not extermination. Public control agencies, including ADC, do very little prairie dog control work, as most control is practiced by land managers. These agencies do provide technical information and assistance, however.

USFWS (2004) acknowledged extant and potentially significant local population reductions due to chemical control of prairie dogs but concluded that impacts due to this factor are not a threat to the extent that the species could become endangered in the foreseeable future.

USFWS (2004) acknowledged that recreational shooting can reduce population densities at specific sites and that extirpation possibly may have occurred in isolated circumstances due to this factor. However, USFWS noted that populations can recover from very low numbers following intensive recreational shooting and therefore concluded that effects due to recreational shooting do not constitute a significant threat.

Distribution, abundance, and trend data indicate that inadequate regulatory mechanisms are not limiting black-tailed prairie dog populations at present, nor are they likely to within the foreseeable future (USFWS 2004).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Degree of Threat: Medium

Comments: Major threat ranked is that of the introduced disease, sylvatic plague.

Threats fall into four main categories. 1) Exotic disease, particularly sylvatic plague (Yersinia pestis) to which prairie dogs are highly susceptible. 2) Loss of habitat to agriculture and urbanization. 3) Habitat fragmentation and its many effects (Miller et al. 1994). 4) Control activities by government, private organizations, and individuals via poisoning and shooting.

EXOTIC SPECIES/DISEASE: Sylvatic plague was introduced to North America around 1899 (Cully 1989) and first reported in black-tailed prairie dogs from Texas in the mid-1940s (Reading et al. 1989). It is a serious threat given its pervasiveness and efficacy, as it can kill more than 99% of prairie dogs in a colony (Cully 1989, Oldemeyer et al. 1993), and numbers do not appear to fully recover (USFWS 2002). Though prairie dogs have persisted in the presence of plague since about 1900 and prairie dog numbers are high given habitat loss and control efforts, plague is still of concern to local populations and for long-term persistence. Plague is not well documented in black-tailed prairie dogs across their range though there is no reason to believe that plague is not as significant in black-tailed as it is in white-tailed prairie dogs (Cully 1992). On large areas originally selected as possible ferret reintroduction sites, declines of up to 90 per cent from about 1985-2000 are "generally attributed to sylvatic plague" (USFWS 2000). Only about 10 percent of the historical range is both plague-free and available (not cropland) (USFWS 2000). Widespread outbreaks in 2001 may indicate the beginning of an 'up' cycle in plague occurrence (USFWS 2002).

USFWS (2004) noted that: (1) High exposure doses of plague bacilli may be necessary for disease contraction in some individuals; (2) limited immune response has been observed in some individuals; (3) a population dynamic may have developed in low-density, isolated populations that contributes to the persistence of these populations; (4) the apparent ability of some sites to recover to pre-plague levels after a plague epizootic; and (5) approximately one-third of the species' historic range has not been affected by plague. Based on this and on recent estimates of occupied habitat, USFWS (2004) concluded that plague no longer appears to be as significant a threat as previously thought and that plague in combination with other factors is not likely to cause the black-tailed prairie dog to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.

HABITAT LOSS AND DEGRADATION: Habitat loss has been an important factor in prairie dog declines in the past. Cheatheam (1977) estimated that about 36% of the land area in regions used by prairie dogs was covered by water developments, urban expansion, cropland, and improved pasture. Similarly, Bishop and Culbertson (1976) detected extensive colony loss on river terraces as a result of farming activities. Conversion of native prairie to farmland does not necessarily represent habitat loss to prairie dogs, but farmers will not tolerate prairie dogs in their fields (Merriam 1902). Similarly, prairie dogs prosper in empty urban lots and fields, yet this is not often tolerated given the plague risk. However, in New Mexico, urban (Gunnison's) prairie dogs are often allowed to remain because colony fleas are killed instead (Brown 1992). Still, developments that destroy patches of grassland (e.g., roads, buildings, water impoundments) result in loss of potential prairie dog habitat and restriction of area for colony expansion.

USFWS (2004) concluded that present or threatened habitat destruction is not a threat to the species, although considerable effects due to this factor have occurred in the past. Additionally, USFWS concluded that present or threatened habitat modification as it relates to plague is not a significant threat to the species.

CONTROL: Control by humans, interacting with low forage production, is probably the main cause of loss of the prairie dog from the more arid parts of its range, including southwest New Mexico and southeast Arizona (Cully 1992, Hubbard 1992) and Texas (see map in Cheatheam 1977). For most of the 20th century, Animal Damage Control, its forerunners, and other control agencies worked hard to eliminate prairie dogs over wide areas (Cully 1992). Towns were poisoned primarily with strychnine and zinc-phosphide baits (e.g., oats mixed with rodenticide). Poisoning was immediately followed up with extermination of any remaining living prairie dogs (Cully 1992). Indeed, control efforts, with some help from plague, resulted in a reduction in prairie dog acreage from 700,000,000 to 1,500,000 in 1971 (Cain et al. 1971, in Fagerstone and Biggins 1986; Cully 1989). Today prairie dog poisoning efforts are limited to local, problem populations and entail control, not extermination. Public control agencies, including ADC, do very little prairie dog control work, as most control is practiced by land managers (Turman 1992). These agencies do provide technical information and assistance, however. Vosburgh and Irby (1998) discuss the effect of recreational shooting on colonies.

USFWS (2004) acknowledged extant and potentially significant local population reductions due to chemical control of prairie dogs but concluded that impacts due to this factor are not a threat to the extent that the species could become endangered in the foreseeable future.

USFWS (2004) acknowledged that recreational shooting can reduce population densities at specific sites and that extirpation possibly may have occurred in isolated circumstances due to this factor. However, USFWS noted that populations can recover from very low numbers following intensive recreational shooting and therefore concluded that effects due to recreational shooting do not constitute a significant threat.

Distribution, abundance, and trend data indicate that inadequate regulatory mechanisms are not limiting black-tailed prairie dog populations at present, nor are they likely to within the foreseeable future (USFWS 2004).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Prairie dogs have suffered from habitat loss and persecution as ranching and farming has expanded during the past 50 years or more (1) (5). As agriculture and livestock ranching claimed habitat previously used by these rodents, the prairie dogs became vilified by farmers and the target of poisoning campaigns (1). Prairie dogs are widely considered a pest and exterminated through poisoning and shooting for destroying cultivated crops (9). They are also reported to compete with cattle and sheep for grasses, although there is little evidence for this, and their burrow systems are alleged to present hazards to cattle and horses, making broken legs a threat, although this is also rare (10). As a result, the former range and numbers of the black-tailed prairie dog have been dramatically reduced, and the considerable reduction in population numbers has also seriously threatened, amongst others, the black-footed ferret (classified as Extinct in the Wild), for which they were virtually sole prey (6). Nevertheless, many black-tailed prairie dog colonies persist in protected areas (10), and this remains the most common and widespread of the five prairie dog species (9).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Many colonies are in national parks, state parks, and other protected lands, most of which prohibit prairie dog control/eradication. However, few colonies are provided protection, even in parks. Large, core occurrences need protection from population control.

Inventories are needed range-wide, and they should determine locations and sizes of colonies, ownership, and the presence of plague.

Of primary concern is the long-term viability of colonies in relation to size and distance to nearby colonies. Additionally, research into prairie dog genetics is needed to determine if currently reduced populations and habitat fragmentation are causing damaging levels of inbreeding.
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Source: IUCN

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Restoration Potential: A prairie dog colony is generally readily restored or reinvigorated following catastrophe (see ecology and management sections). Pet prairie dogs have flourished in back yards since at least the late 1800s (Otero 1987). Given forage and protection from threats, they usually prosper and rebound.

Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: As with other squirrels, prairie dogs are an especially resilient mammal in relationships with man. They prosper adjacent to railroads (Mearns 1907, Merriam 1902), highways, auto roads, and businesses where little or no buffer zone occurs. A colony in a small area can prosper for years without human interference as long as a forage base is available and except when one of the above threats or severe predation intercedes (R. Wallace, pers. obs., Lubbock, Texas). Thus, protection to the outer edge of a colony or colony complex will usually be sufficient. However, to ensure protection, the inclusion of a buffer zone is recommended. The size of the buffer zone will depend upon local conditions; for example, colonies that occur in urban areas should have a relatively larger buffer zone than colonies that occur in remote areas unpopulated by humans. Furthermore, if stewardship calls for colony expansion, then a land area substantially greater than the existing colony size should be managed accordingly. Expansion areas must have the proper habitat requirements as well (see other sections).

Management Requirements: Although prairie dogs are common, management is important for several reasons: 1) prairie dogs are still often viewed with disdain by humans managing for other purposes, and are thus constantly threatened, 2) the loss of one colony in an area may seem insignificant, but such losses, if extensive enough, amount to the loss of a significant genetic resource, and 3) prairie dogs are an important component of North American grasslands by virtue of their interactions with soils, flora, and fauna. Specifically, colonies and colony complexes can enhance the biodiversity of an area larger than the colony itself, depending upon the size of the grassland encompassing the colony(ies) (for example, see Reading et al. 1989).

Protection as a Management Tool

Because prairie dogs are resilient, self-managing creatures, protective management means assuring the exclusion of plague, control, and habitat loss, and monitoring prairie dog and associated floral/faunal trends (see other sections).

Reintroduction Plan

Plan Goal: Establishment of a long-term self-sustaining prairie dog colony functioning as a natural patch in grassland or savannah.

Plan Procedures - Site Characteristics:

1) Slope - < 10% (Koford 1958, Dalsted et al. 1981, Hillman et al. 1979).

2) Soil - No sands, sandy loam to heavier okay (Thorp 1949, Koford 1958, Bishop and Culbertson 1976).

3) Vegetation - Short to mixed grass (Bonham and Lerwick 1976, Coppock et al. 1983, Archer et al. 1987, Stinnett 1981).

4) Expansion area - Habitat allowed for expansion should primarily be of the ideal habitat. Colony encroachment into areas with an important woody component is possible if management is committed to facilitating the encroachment by initially and repeatedly top-removing resprouting woodies as needed (Osborn 1942, Player and Urness 1982, Weltzin 1990).

5) Dispersal area, New colony initiation - If new colony growth is allowed, areas within 3 km (Garrett and Franklin 1988) of the original colony should include ideal habitat. Both unvegetated travel lanes (Knowles 1986) and vegetated, pathless areas (Garrett and Franklin 1988) should be provided for travel to other areas of ideal habitat. Unvegetated travel lanes may include dirt roads, cow paths, ephemeral watercourses, and should radiate from a colony in at least four main directions. Roads and trails may lead dispersing animals to disturbed sites which might be suitable for colonization (Knowles 1986). As off colony vegetation density decreases and bare ground increases, the frequency and cover of unvegetated travel lanes can decrease as well. Vegetated, pathless areas may be important in providing cover for dispersing prairie dogs (Garrett and Franklin 1988).

Initial Establishment: Extant vegetation should be reduced to about 5-15 cm above ground level (Player and Urness 1982). This will leave forage available while allowing visibility. Vegetation should be artificially maintained at this height until the prairie dogs are abundant enough to regulate the height. A buffer zone around the prairie dogs of vegetation maintained low is necessary to inhibit predator concealment.

Animal Characteristics:

1) Age - Young adults at 2 years of age should be used as they can breed and might breed in the spring of the introduction (Hoogland and Foltz 1982). If 1-year-old animals must be used, it is preferable that they be males, which tend to disperse at age 1 anyway (Garrett and Franklin 1988).

2) Male:female, coterie size - Release a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio, based on typical coterie make-up (Hoogland and Foltz 1982). If male influence is higher, there may be too much fighting and stress.

3) Animal density - A proper release density is 12 animals per hectare, which is close to the average of adult and juvenile dogs in natural populations (Koford 1958; King 1959; Powell, unpubl. mans.). Given a male:female ratio of 1:3, this density provides 3 coteries per hectare. For reference, in two successful reintroductions the density of animals initially released was less than (Hansen and Gold 1977) and equal to (O'Meilia et al. 1982) 12/ha.

4) Animal source - Prairie dogs should be obtained from within the same climatic/vegetation region and from the closest possible colony (Cully 1992). This provides the best chance of obtaining a match between the habitat and the prairie dogs and reduces the odds of introducing diseases (Cully 1992). Cully (1992) recommended that the seed colony be checked for plague and overall health and seed colonies with high rates of disease be avoided. He also recommended that all individuals be quarantined for control of disease.

Release Schedule:

1) Time of year - Animals should be transplanted in spring when the majority of cool season species are resprouting in response to top removal but dense grass growth has not yet accumulated (Brown et al. 1974). Successful spring reintroductions were documented by Hansen and Gold (1977) and O'Meilia et al. (1982). High quality forage with moisture should be available and temperatures should not be stressful. Artificial or livestock-induced maintenance of low vegetation stature may be required if vegetation growth rate is high following resprouting. If regrowth rate is very rapid, consider introduction at time of year when growth rate may be slower (e.g., in response to reduced soil moisture). (Note: At this writing one case in which establishment under slightly different conditions from those recommended here is known. Utah prairie dogs were successfully established in early summer (late June) on a 25-31 cm rainfall site at 2200 m elevation (Player and Urness 1982).)

2) Number of animals released - Based on data on Utah prairie dogs, a large number of animals (about 50) released at one time is apparently not a problem (Player and Urness 1982). Whether an even larger number of animals can be released simultaneously on one site and successfully establish is unclear; more information is needed. As many as 184 to 200 animals have been released on adjacent sites (as many as 50/ha) in the same spring (O'Meilia et al. 1982) and summer (Player and Urness 1982). Animals are commonly released over consecutive years, with the largest number released during the first year (Hansen and Gold 1977, O'Meilia et al. 1982).

Number of Burrow Entrances: Given that only one burrow entrance is usually found in one burrow system (Stromberg 1978), at least three potential burrow entrances per coterie should be provided to ensure that the animals find a burrow entrance they like. Three burrows per coterie and three coteries per hectare yield nine potential burrow entrances per hectare. However, this is a very low figure for natural populations, which commonly have about 30-100 burrows/ha. Naturally dispersing prairie dogs obviously begin without mounds, but population levels are very low (probably about 2-5 animals). In reintroduction, dozens of animals may be released within the same season, if not simultaneously (O'Meilia et al. 1982, Player and Urness 1982). Thus, an excess of burrow mound entrances would be ideal, such as 30-40/ha. This decision will reside with a manager based on needs and limitations at the time.

Structure of Burrows: Burrows should be initiated by digging 10- 15-cm-wide holes about one meter deep (Sheets et al. 1971, Player and Urness 1982). Holes should be at steep angles, such as 10-40 degrees (Brown et al. 1974, Player and Urness 1982). A power auger is ideal for digging (Player and Urness 1982). Soil from holes need not be mounded around the hole perimeter, but an auger would accomplish this on its own to some degree. Cover, in the form of wooden boxes with a small entrance (about 15 x 15 cm), or other predator- and weather-proof structure, should be provided for at least some of the prairie dogs (about 25-50%) until the animals rely strictly on their burrows (Carpenter and Martin 1969, Player and Urness 1982, Siminski 1992). Cover boxes should be placed over burrow holes (Carpenter and Martin 1969, Player and Urness 1982).

Site Preparation: Ideally a site should be assessed by disturbing it one year in advance and monitoring floral and faunal response (Player and Urness 1982). Vegetation should be repeatedly top- clipped and the soil disturbed somewhat, such as several patches per hectare, with each patch exceeding burrow mound diameter (> 1 m). Soil disturbance might encourage species that are initially unwanted in an establishing prairie dog colony, such as predators. Monitoring should search for such species and managers must be willing to remove them as necessary.

If a site is disturbed a year in advance, a year-long pre- introduction study on colony vegetation should be conducted to help clarify the feasibility of an introduction. Feasibility would be determined by establishing whether forage quality and quantity are adequate and if other objectives (e.g., elevated diversity) might be met. Vegetation should be monitored by season for changes in production, diversity, and composition. Monitoring on adjacent control (undisturbed) sites should proceed as well.

Introductions often work when a site is disturbed immediately prior to prairie dog release (Carpenter and Martin 1969), but prior assessment of site response to disturbance is highly recommended, especially for major, costly reintroduction attempts aimed at establishing a large, fully functional colony. (Note: Reports emphasizing the ease of establishment of prairie dogs [Otero 1987, Carpenter and Martin 1987] often stem from cases where the animals were highly managed, in that the animals were walled in, watched every day, and daily provided with food.)

Initial Release: Consider enclosing some prairie dogs in cages over artificial holes to discourage prairie dog wandering and predation (Player and Urness 1982). Trap predators until all prairie dogs are living in burrows.

Initial Monitoring and Care: To help ensure animal safety and success of introduction, monitor prairie dog numbers and activity (Player and Urness 1982) until the animals appear unreliant on cover boxes. Then shift to monitoring about every three days. The length of the intensive monitoring period will depend upon site-specific conditions and feasibility. Where feasible and necessary, remove all predators until the year when a majority of the adults have contributed to a cohort of weanlings. However, this may not be necessary if the supply of introduced prairie dogs is very large. Consider forage supplements (e.g., high protein pellets) at release and during stressful periods (dry spells, extreme cold), until weaning success is high. If dry feed is supplied, consider providing open water or moist feed as well. In areas of grassland with no cacti or woody component, consider providing succulent or green material outside of the growing season.

Laws Affecting Introduction: Managers should be aware of laws regarding import, transport, introduction, and control of rodents. Laws may apply regarding possible disease transmission. Many states (e.g., Texas, New Mexico, South Dakota) have laws requiring prairie dog control when they are a pest. Such laws may have statements affecting introduction attempts.

Responsible Handling of Prairie Dogs: Managers should be apprised of humane transport and housing techniques (more information is needed), as well as steps necessary for protection from disease transmission from animal to humans. Seed colonies should be dusted to insecticidally control any extant fleas prior to handling prairie dogs.

Trapping for Reintroduction Garrett and Franklin (1988) used National double-door live traps for adults and yearlings and National single-door traps for juveniles. They baited traps with oats and located them at burrow entrances.

Pressurized water with suds (Elias et al. 1974, Lewis et al. 1979) and water alone (Carpenter and Martin 1969) can be applied to burrows. In the former case (Elias et al. 1974), the foaming suds fill the burrows, reducing the amount of water needed. An average capture rate of 10 prairie dogs per hour has been recorded. Without suds, 29 prairie dogs were taken in two hours.

Control as a Management Tool

In cases where colony expansion or initiation is inappropriate, numerous effective tried-and-true control measures exist. Non-lethal methods include establishment of visual barriers to control direction and rate of expansion (Franklin and Garrett 1989), chemosterilants in artificially provided forages to reduce levels of fertilization and natality (Garrett and Franklin 1983), and deferment of ungulate grazing to allow vegetative growth to exceed the acceptable limits of prairie dogs (Snell and Hlavachick 1982, in Cable and Timm 1987). On high-condition mixed prairie, fire may also discourage colony expansion (Klukas 1987). When off-colony areas are burned, attracting ungulates away from colonies (Coppock and Detling 1986), prairie dogs may have difficulty suppressing on-colony vegetation until ungulates return (Klukas 1987).

Lethal control measures include strychnine and zinc phosphide laced grain baits and phosphine and other gases, all of which are highly effective inducers of mortality in prairie dogs and certain other granivores as well (Deisch et al. 1990). Animal Damage Control recommends poison application as follows (ADC, no date). Toxic bait, the most widely used control agent, should be applied when vegetation is not green, in order to avoid foraging competition. Pre-bait with 1 teaspoon of untreated oats at each burrow to get the prairie dogs on the grain. Once most of the grain is consumed, which may take a few days, apply 1 teaspoon of baited grain per burrow. To ensure that non-target animals will not take poisoned grain, do not apply poisoned bait until the prairie dogs are readily consuming the pre-bait. Prairie dogs that survive the toxic grain can be gassed by inserting gas-releasing cartridges or tablets into burrows and plugging the burrows. (Note: Zinc-phosphide and some other toxins can be used only by individuals certified as pesticide applicators in their state.) The poisons can affect some non-target species. Within four days of application, strychnine baits reduced horned lark (EREMOPHILA ALPESTRIS) densities by 55-66% (Apa et al. 1991). However, when zinc-phosphide was used no effect was observed on horned larks. Zinc-phosphide is toxic to horned larks, but the birds are repelled by its taste and smell. The control of prairie dogs also caused a long-term depression of horned larks as the colony vegetation grew to a height and density disfavored by the birds.

Zinc-phosphide will cause mortality of deer mice (Deisch et al. 1990), while zinc-phosphide and strychnine will reduce ant and wolf spider numbers, respectively (Deisch et al. 1989). However, over the long term, control results in elevated numbers of wolf spiders and ground beetles. See Uresk et al. (1988) for further information on effects of toxins on wildlife.

Significantly, prairie dog control is so expensive that in many areas of prairie dog range the forage benefits derived by livestock are not enough to result in recovery of costs of control (Collins et al. 1984, Sharps 1988, Miller et al. 1990). On shortgrass range, Collins et al. (1984) found that forage increases following control amounted to only 51 kg/ha/year. If each year prairie dogs repopulated at least 30% of the area originally treated, total costs were not recovered because of the added cost of yearly maintenance control. Initial treatment costs range from $16-17/ha ($6.50-6.90/acre), with yearly maintenance costs of about 75% of initial control costs (Collins et al. 1984).

Where the federal government is paying for control, the associated cost to the taxpayer led Sharps (1987) to propose that control programs be abandoned in favor of sport shooting of prairie dogs as a way to boost local economies. In South Dakota in 1986, 46,000 hunter days were expended in shooting prairie dogs (Sharps 1987). Sport shooting is an inefficient control measure, but it does limit prairie dog expansion if regularly used (Reading et al. 1989). Most importantly, shooting does not present the risk offered by toxins to nontarget wildlife.

For further details on lethal control measures see Deisch et al. (1990), ADC control pamphlets (ADC, no date), and/or contact local animal control offices. ADC is with USDA-APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service).

Flea Control in Prairie Dog Colonies

In areas where prairie dogs are close to humans, colony fleas are killed with insecticidal dusts (e.g., pyroperm, carbaryl [sevin]) to prevent transmission to domestic dogs and cats (which carry plague to human homes). Flea control also should limit the chance of disease transmission through the prairie dog colony. Pyroperm does not seem to damage the prairie dogs, even if it touches the animals directly (Brown 1992).

Animal Damage Control (ADC) recommends that when controlling prairie dogs, fleas are controlled as well (ADC, no date). If fleas are not controlled prior to prairie dog control, the fleas may seek the next available living being (e.g., humans) once the prairie dogs are controlled.

Management Research Needs: The most important areas of need, not in order of significance, are 1) plague ecology (Cully 1992), 2) interactions between prairie dogs and ungulates on shortgrass and the more arid portions of the range, 3) impacts of prairie dogs on the ecosystem, 4) trends in total numbers, and 5) genetic interaction in colony complexes (see Reading et al. [1989] for information on metapopulations). Good work has been done in all these areas, but bodies of work large enough to develop highly supported generalizations do not exist. Other areas where work is needed are prairie dog/predator interactions (what are the most important predators, how important are they), long-term effects of prairie dogs on communities (flora, fauna, soils), and prairie dog subspecies status. Specific questions might compare soil characteristics in very old colonies, young colonies, and uncolonized areas, and ANPP on and off colony. Research is desperately needed on floral/faunal interactions in the less studied portions of the prairie dog's range, such as southern and northern range limits.

Biological Research Needs: Of primary concern is the long-term viability of colonies in relation to size and distance to nearby colonies. Additionally, research into prairie dog genetics is needed to determine if currently reduced populations and habitat fragmentation are causing damaging levels of inbreeding.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Global Protection: Several to very many (4 to >40) occurrences appropriately protected and managed

Comments: Many colonies are in national parks, state parks, and other protected lands, most of which prohibit prairie dog control/eradication.

Needs: Few colonies are provided protection, even in parks. Large, core occurrences need protection from population control.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Use of Fire in Population Management

More info for the terms: density, fire exclusion, severity

Fire may have negative or positive effects on black-tailed prairie dog habitat depending on burn severity and season. Low-severity burns conducted during spring in non-drought years may stimulate the growth of black-tailed prairie dog colonies by reducing vegetational height and density at the colony periphery [40,42,62,68,72,76,78,98,100,113,133,142]. High-severity burns have the potential of altering the plant community in a black-tailed prairie dog colony, reducing its quality of habitat, at least in the short-term [128]. During the plant growing season, the absence of fire provides optimal conditions for black-tailed prairie dog colony growth [78].

Prescribed burning and mechanical brush removal around the perimeter of black-tailed prairie dog colonies may encourage their expansion. Fire exclusion may be an effective, nonlethal management tool for reducing the expansion of black-tailed prairie dog colonies [98].

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Management Considerations

More info for the terms: avoidance, cover, density, forbs, natural, presence

Objectives of ecologists and conservationists often conflict with those of ranchers and rural landowners regarding management of black-tailed prairie dogs [126]. Because black-tailed prairie dogs have a strong positive influence on plant and animal diversity in their native habitat, ecologists and conservationists are concerned regarding declines in their populations over the last century (e.g., [88,111]). Conversely, because black-tailed prairie dogs alter plant community structure and composition [12,29,30,71,81], they have often been regarded as competitors with livestock [18] and are subject to eradication and control efforts.

Ecological role and threats: Black-tailed prairie dogs have been called "ecosystem engineers" due to their influence on the biotic and abiotic characteristics of their habitat, landscape architecture, and ecosystem structure and function [21,35,139]. For details on their effects on vegetation and soils, see Site-scale characteristics. Research suggests that black-tailed prairie dogs are a keystone species [21,35,66,95,97] in some, but not all, geographic areas [35,101,102]. Black-tailed prairie dogs enhance the diversity of vegetation, vertebrates, and invertebrates through their foraging and burrowing activities and by their presence as prey items [21,35,103,141,144]. Grasslands inhabited by black-tailed prairie dogs support higher biodiversity than grasslands not occupied by black-tailed prairie dogs [32,95]. See Ceballos and others [21] for a simplified diagram of black-tailed prairie dog activities and impacts in grassland ecosystem function and biological diversity.

Hundreds of species of vertebrates [99,120] and invertebrates [82,124,144] are associated with black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Vertebrate species richness on black-tailed prairie dog colonies increases with colony size and density [111]. West of the Missouri River in Montana, 40% (100 species) of all vertebrate fauna in prairie habitats rely on black-tailed prairie dog colonies for food, nesting, and/or denning [48]. Rare and declining species such as the black-footed ferret [24,43,47,55,63,99,120,128], swift fox (Vulpes velox), mountain plover (Charadrius montanus) [111], and burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) [15,69,91,93,104,106,107,131,132] are associated with black-tailed prairie dog colonies [95,99]. Because black-tailed prairie dog foraging activities keep plant development in a suppressed vegetative state with higher nutritional qualities [89,120], herbivores including elk (Cervus elaphus), American bison (Bos bison), pronghorn (Antilocarpa americana), and domestic cattle often prefer foraging in black-tailed prairie dog colonies [12,29,30,59,69,75,79,81,103,120]. Animals that depend on herbaceous cover in sagebrush habitat, such as mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and sage grouse (Centrocercus spp.), may be deterred by the decreased vegetative cover on black-tailed prairie dog colonies [71]. For a list of vertebrate species associated with black-tailed prairie dog colonies, see Campbell and Clark [16].

Biodiversity in shortgrass prairies may be at risk due to the reductions in distribution and occurrence of black-tailed prairie dog [82]. Threats to black-tailed prairie dogs include fragmentation and loss of habitat, unregulated eradication or control efforts, and sylvatic plague [90,99]. As a result of habitat fragmentation and prairie dog eradication programs, black-tailed prairie dog colonies are now smaller and more fragmented than in presettlement times. Agriculture, livestock use, and other development have reduced black-tailed prairie dog habitat to 2% of its former range [99]. Fragmented black-tailed prairie dog colonies are more susceptible to extirpation, primarily by sylvatic plague [95]. The effect of roads on black-tailed prairie dogs is debatable. Roads may either facilitate or hinder black-tailed prairie dog movement, depending on the landscape setting. Roads may be easy routes for dispersal, but those with heavy automobile use may increase black-tailed prairie dog mortality [26,79]. Roads, streams, and lakes may serve as barriers to sylvatic plague in black-tailed prairie dog colonies [26].

According to Reading and Beissinger [111] and Lomolino and Smith [88], a primary management goal of black-tailed prairie dog ecosystems should be the maintenance of biodiversity. Maintaining a network of native prairie reserves located in large clusters as well as large, isolated colonies across the black-tailed prairie dog's historic range is recommended [88,111]. Mulhern and Knowles [99] recommend that 1% to 3% of suitable grasslands should be occupied by black-tailed prairie dogs, and 5% to 10% of federally-owned lands should be occupied by black-tailed prairie dogs. In 1990, Miller and others [96] suggested an integrated management plan that satisfies cattle ranching needs and the conservation of grasslands. They proposed that federal money allocated to the black-tailed prairie dog poisoning program be converted into a rebate for ranchers that manage livestock and preserve black-tailed prairie dog colonies [96]. In 1970, Linder and others [87] recommended preserving black-tailed prairie dog colonies for black-footed ferrets by obtaining easements. Ranchers could continue grazing cattle in a normal manner, but an easement would stipulate that black-tailed prairie dogs could not be eliminated or controlled using methods that are detrimental to ferrets. The rancher could be compensated for an increase in the size of black-tailed prairie dog colonies [87].

A habitat suitability index model for black-tailed prairie dog was created by Clippinger [25] to produce indices for year-round habitat requirements for the black-tailed prairie dog. Possible uses of the model include the evaluation of current colony sites for habitat suitability, the evaluation of possibilities for black-tailed prairie dog colony expansion, and the suitability of sites of transplantation or rehabilitation of black-tailed prairie dog. Four habitat variables are considered: percent herbaceous cover, percent slope, height of vegetation, and soil composition. According to the model, any area of short-grass or mixed-grass prairie >6.2 acres (0.25 ha) is suitable habitat for black-tailed prairie dog. Optimal features include silty clay loam soil, ≥15% herbaceous cover with vegetation 3 to 5 inches (7-13 cm) tall, and ≤10% slope [25].

Interactions with domestic livestock: While black-tailed prairie dogs are often regarded as competitors with livestock for available forage, evidence of impacts on rangelands are mixed. Some research suggests that black-tailed prairie dogs have either neutral or beneficial effects on rangeland used by livestock [12,59,81,103]; however, effects of black-tailed prairie dogs on rangelands are not uniform [29,30,71]. In Cimarron National Grassland in southwest Kansas and adjacent private lands in Baca County, Colorado, some vegetational differences were detected between areas colonized by black-tailed prairie dogs and non-colonized areas, although not all differences were consistent among sample years. Species richness and diversity indices did not differ (P>0.05) among colonized and non-colonized sites in either year, nor did the amount of bare ground (P>0.05). The authors conclude that while prairie dogs alter shortgrass prairie such that the vegetation of colonies tends to be distinct from adjacent non-colonized areas, “prairie dogs do not substantially alter the essential character of shortgrass vegetation” [146]. Cattle neither significantly preferred nor avoided black-tailed prairie dog colonies in a study in the shortgrass steppe of northeastern Colorado. Cattle used black-tailed prairie dog colonies in proportion to the colony's availability, and grazed as intensively on colonies as on areas not occupied by black-tailed prairie dog [53].

Competitive interactions between black-tailed prairie dogs and domestic livestock for preferred forage species are unclear. Several studies suggest that black-tailed prairie dogs avoid eating many plants that livestock prefer, and prefer many plants that livestock avoid [29,30,103,136]. Conversely, on shortgrass prairie in Colorado, cattle and black-tailed prairie dogs had a 64% similarity in annual diet [59].

Some changes in plant composition brought about by black-tailed prairie dogs may benefit livestock by encouraging an increase in plants that are more tolerant of grazing, such as needleleaf sedge (Carex duriuscula), sixweeks grass (Vulpia octoflora), and scarlet globemallow [12,89,120]. Grazing by black-tailed prairie dogs may also improve the  nutritional qualities of some plants [89,120]. On a shortgrass prairie near Fort Collins, Colorado, plant species diversity was greater inside black-tailed prairie dog colonies than outside of colonies, and perennial grasses such as buffalo grass and forbs increased [12]. While black-tailed prairie dog colonies at Wind Cave National Park typically had lower levels of plant biomass and were dominated by forbs, plants growing on prairie dog colonies had higher leaf nitrogen concentrations than plants in mixed-grass prairie outside colonies [39]. Foraging by black-tailed prairie dogs does not significantly (P>0.05) affect steer weights [59,103]. While forage availability and utilization by cattle decreased in black-tailed prairie dog foraging areas, there was no significant (P>0.05) reduction of steer weight in either of 2 years of study at the USDA's Southern Great Plains Experimental Range near Woodward, Oklahoma. Nutrient cycling, increased soil fertility, and subsequent changes in forage quality partly compensated for reduced forage availability [103].

Relocation: Black-tailed prairie dogs may need to be relocated for re-establishment into areas where they were extirpated, or to ensure no net loss of prairie dog habitat due to development or agriculture. Factors to consider when relocating black-tailed prairie dogs include: soil, slope, elevation, vegetation type, previous use of a site by black-tailed prairie dog, proximity to other black-tailed prairie dog colonies and adjacent landowners, and natural dispersal barriers. See Roe and Roe [116] for details. After relocation, black-tailed prairie dogs may be retained by 1) ensuring that relocation habitat is suitable, 2) use of underground nest chambers modeled after natural nest chambers, 3) acclimating black-tailed prairie dogs to release sites in large retention pens, and 4) providing supplemental food and water as necessary [117]. Survival of captive prairie dogs upon release into the wild may be enhanced by predator training at a young age [123]. In a study conducted by Shier and Owings [123], predators were presented to captive juvenile black-tailed prairie dogs in conjunction with playbacks of black-tailed prairie dog alarm vocalizations. These techniques had an immediate and lasting effect on black-tailed prairie dogs and enhanced predator avoidance once they were released [123].

Control: It is easier to discourage black-tailed prairie dogs before they inhabit an area than to try to eliminate them after they have established a colony [81]. A minimum of 77% elimination of black-tailed prairie dogs must be achieved the first year. If the remaining 23% of the population is not removed, a complete repopulation may occur within 3 years [31]. A cost-benefit analysis revealed that black-tailed prairie dog poisoning costs more than any grazing benefits accrued [95,96]. Additionally, animals such as American badgers, foxes (Vulpes spp.), coyotes, bobcats, weasels (Mustela spp.), golden eagles, and hawks (Buteo spp.) are potential indirect targets of poisoning programs [81]. Shooting black-tailed prairie dogs for population control and recreation is common across their range [69,90,99]. Shooting may decrease the health of black-tailed prairie dog colonies, fragment populations, cause the loss of non-target species, and delay recovery of colonies affected by sylvatic plague [90].

Visual barriers may be an effective, non-lethal method of black-tailed prairie dog control in mixed-grass prairies. By placing a visual obstruction at 1 side of a colony, expansion of the colony in that direction is limited due to the obstruction of the panoramic view. Physical barriers such as steep slopes and tall vegetation with grass stems about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) apart and >1 foot (12 inches) tall are an effective barrier against black-tailed prairie dog colony expansion [81]. Koford [81] suggests changing a cattle grazing practice to alter the range vegetation and minimize the quick reoccurrence of black-tailed prairie dog damage. To establish a different plant community unsuitable to black-tailed prairie dogs, complete rest for the range or reseeding is suggested. Specialized predators of black-tailed prairie dogs could also be encouraged. For example, poles may be installed in black-tailed prairie dog colonies to encourage predatory raptors to inhabit the area [81].

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Conservation

Still widespread, relatively common, and existing in a number of protected areas, the black-tailed prairie dog is not considered to be under any serious threat of extinction in the foreseeable future, and conservation measures are therefore limited (8). The Prairie Dog Coalition has been established to protect the animals and restore prairie dog ecosystems, as well as aiming to raise public awareness of the plight they face at the hands of agricultural expansion and misinformed farmers (11).
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© Wildscreen

Source: ARKive

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

As is the case for their positive economic impact on humans, the negative impact of these animals on humans is varied. Cynomys ludovicianus has historically been considered a pest species, although most of the grounds for viewing it as such have been mistaken. Prairie dogs have been known to destroy crops of corn, wheat, alfalfa, hay, sorghum, potatoes and cantaloupes, causing some concern for agriculture. Although they are reported to compete with cattle and sheep for forage, there is actually little dietary overlap with these species. Cynomys ludovicianus burrow systems are alleged to present hazards to cattle and horses, making broken legs a threat. However, there are actually very few leg fractures in domestic livestock attributable to prairie dog burrows. Also, as discussed under "Economic Importance for Humans: Positive", the benefits of C. ludovicianus to the vegetational community may far outweigh the possible threat this species poses to agriculture. Prairie dogs may serve as a reservoir for spotted fever and bubonic plague.

Negative Impacts: injures humans; crop pest

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Black-tailed prairie dogs are beneficial to humans in a variety of ways. They may help the vegetation in ways which benefit domestic cattle and horses. Because of their excavation of the soil and clipping of vegetation, as well as their fecal material and urine, many plants receive fertilization and optimal growing conditions. Bison, pronghorn antelope, and domestic livestock prefer for forage at the sites of prairie dog colonies when such are available. Beyond their utility in modifying the vegetation to the liking of livestock, black-tailed prairie dogs have been used in the laboratory for studies of gallstones. Prairie dog towns are popular among sightseers in the American west. In addition, prarie dogs are said to make excellent pets if captured young. Historically, these animals have provided food for native americans.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; food ; ecotourism ; research and education; produces fertilizer

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

© The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors

Source: Animal Diversity Web

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Risks

Species Impact: Effects on Plant Communities and Vegetation

Prairie dogs regulate communities by changing plant and animal species composition, diversity, and production (Koford 1958, Bonham and Lerwick 1976, Agnew et al. 1986, Coppock et al. 1983, Uresk 1984, Sharps and Uresk 1990, Whicker and Detling 1988a, Reading et al. 1989).

Plant species composition is generally altered through replacement or reduction in the dominance value of mid to tall species, thereby allowing the encroachment and/or expansion of short species and/or short morphs of species (Osborn 1942, Koford 1958, Detling and Painter 1983, Archer et al. 1984, Archer et al. 1987).

Plant community composition is also affected by changes in relative percentages in annuals versus perennials (Bonham and Lerwick 1976, Archer et al. 1987). In South Dakota mixed prairie, perennial grasses were replaced primarily by annual forbs (Archer et al. 1987). In New Mexico, diversity of both perennials and annuals increased under prairie dog herbivory (Stinnett 1981); these data should be viewed with caution because only one colony was sampled and not all colony plant species were accounted for.

Prairie dog effects on plant diversity depend on the type of plant-soil community and colony age (Bonham and Lerwick 1976, Stinnett 1981, Coppock et al. 1983, Krueger 1986). Sites that are strongly dominated by one species are likely to increase in diversity once prairie dogs move in, while diverse sites are likely to remain at their level of diversity prior to disturbance or lose diversity (Bonham and Lerwick 1976, Agnew et al. 1986). Elevated diversity is often found on young colonies and on young portions of colonies (Coppock et al. 1983, Krueger 1986). Thus, diversity may increase to a threshold associated with a given intensity and duration of prairie dog activity, but decrease beyond that threshold as one or two species dominate (Coppock et al. 1983, Archer et al. 1984, Krueger 1986, Steuter 1992). Other factors that affect diversity include availability of plant species propagules, herbivory by other wild and domestic animals, and prairie dog demographics. As for demographics, towns with low prairie dog densities and/or a population that is maintained well below carrying capacity are least likely to push a plant community into a low state of diversity.

End-of-season standing crop is primarily affected by the severity of herbivory, the response of plant species, and colony age (Bonham and Lerwick 1976, Coppock et al. 1983,b, Krueger 1986). Under heavy grazing by prairie dogs and light grazing by ungulates, annual net aboveground primary production (ANPP) does not appear to differ between on- and off-colony areas (Whicker and Detling 1988). Thus, prairie dogs may actually elevate ANPP by stimulating shoot production.

As a result of intensive above-ground vegetation removal by prairie dogs, vegetative and litter cover are lower in on- than off-colony areas, whereas amount of bare ground is higher on a colony (Knowles et al. 1982, Coppock et al. 1983, Archer and Detling 1986, Archer et al. 1987). These changes result in significant microsite-level impacts on colonies, including elevated soil temperature (Archer and Detling 1986), altered nutrient cycling (Whicker and Detling 1988), and possibly altered erosion and runoff patterns. By removing above-ground growth and elevating surface temperatures (Archer and Detling 1986), prairie dogs may facilitate green-up of cool season forages earlier in spring and later in fall than usual. Higher soil temperatures (Archer and Detling 1986) may also result in longer growing season for warm season plants.

Interactions with Ungulates

In relation to ungulates, the most important change effected by prairie dogs across their range is probably reduction in ungulate forage availability. However, nutrient density may be increased for large ungulates and they may prefer colonies until forage quantity becomes limiting (Steuter 1992). See Hansen and Gold (1977), O'Meilia et al. (1982), and Vanderhye, in Whicker and Detling (1985, unpubl. mans.) Bison, elk and pronghorn (ANTILOCAPRA AMERICANA) preferentially use prairie dog towns (Coppock et al. 1983, Wydeven and Dahlgren 1985, Krueger 1986), but they may experience little or no weight gain when doing so (Hansen and Gold 1977; O'Meilia et al. 1982). Increased diversity and abundance of certain forage types (forbs for pronghorn) and elevated forage quality (bison, elk, pronghorn) may attract the ungulates (Koford 1958, Coppock et al. 1983, Krueger 1986).

Effects on Mammals, Birds, and Other Wildlife

Colonies generally show increased biomass and unaffected or reduced diversity of small mammals (Hansen and Gold 1977, Clark et al. 1982, O'Meilia et al. 1982, Sharps and Uresk 1990). Density and biomass of other rodents is greater on than off colony, as a result of higher forage quality, greater forb seed availability, and more cover (burrows) on-colony. Increases are usually accounted for by a small number of species, including the northern grasshopper mouse (ONYCHOMYS LEUCOGASTER) and deer mouse (PEROMYSCUS MANICULATUS) (O'Meilia et al. 1982, Agnew et al. 1986). Vole biomass is greater off colony, where graminoid cover (preferred vole habitat) is usually greater (Agnew et al. 1986). Data conflict for some species, such as the thirteen-lined ground squirrel (SPERMOPHILUS TRIDECEMLINEATUS), of which biomass was lower on-colony (Agnew et al. 1986) in mixed prairie and off-colony in shortgrass (O'Meilia et al. 1982). Plant diversity may have impacted the ground squirrel, as off-colony diversity was higher on mixed prairie and lower on shortgrass. Cottontail (SYLVILAGUS spp.) density is higher on-colony when prairie dog burrows are available (Dano 1952, in Koford 1958; Hansen and Gold 1977). Jackrabbits (LEPUS spp.) show no favoritism to colonies, possibly because of the lack of aboveground cover (Koford 1958). Swift foxes (VULPES VELOX) show a degree of dependence on prairie dogs (Uresk and Sharps 1986, in Sharps and Uresk 1990).

Birds commonly associated with colonies include the burrowing owl (SPEOTYTO CUNICULARIA), mountain plover (CHARADRIUS MONTANUS), horned lark (EREMOPHILA ALPESTRIS), lark bunting (CALAMOSPIZA MELANOCORYS), western meadowlark (STURNELLA NEGLECTA), mourning dove (ZENAIDA MACROURA), killdeer (CHARADRIUS VOCIFERUS), barn swallow (HIRUNDO RUSTICA), and various blackbirds (Koford 1958, Clark et al. 1982, Agnew et al. 1986, Sharps and Uresk 1990, Apa et al. 1991). The mountain plover, a species of high conservation concern, selects prairie dog colonies for the proper nesting conditions of low vegetation and relatively high bare ground coverage (Knowles et al. 1982). Plovers preferentially use prairie dog towns for breeding, feeding, and rearing young. Knowles et al. (1982) speculated that prairie dog extermination has largely contributed to plover decline. Prairie dog burrows are important roosting and nesting sites for burrowing owls (Koford 1958, Cheatheam 1977, Tyler 1983). Prairie dogs are not an important food source for burrowing owls, which rely heavily on arthropods (Tyler 1983). In mixed prairie, biomass and diversity of birds was greater on-colony than off (Agnew et al. 1986, Reading et al. 1989). Elevated abundance of birds on-colony may be a result of the increase in prolific seed producing plants and greater visibility with easier insect and seed detection (Agnew et al. 1986).

Insect biomass is typically much lower on- than off-colony as a result of elevated bird and small mammal (e.g., grasshopper mouse) activity (O'Meilia et al. 1982). With few exceptions insects account for a very small portion of prairie dog diet (Koford 1958). Harvester ant (POGONOMYRMEX OCCIDENTALIS) activity appears to be facilitated by prairie dog activity (Koford 1958, O'Meilia et al. 1982), presumably because ants like the worked soil of prairie dog mounds. Conversely, prairie dogs may prefer the disturbed soil around ant mounds for burrowing (Koford 1958).

Based on a review of recent island biogeography concepts, Reading et al. (1989) implied that prairie dog colony complexes are critical to regional grassland biodiversity. Further, they suggested that colony complexes be managed as prairie dog ecosystems composed of "metapopulations" of prairie dogs and associated fauna.

Effects on Soils

Prairie dogs may extensively alter colony soils by mixing upper and lower layers throughout almost a whole colony (Thorp 1949). In the process 30-40 tons of subsoil material may be brought to the surface, while over time soil texture may be changed (Thorp 1949). Soil mixing per burrow system may amount to 200-225 kg of soil (Whicker and Detling 1988). Mixing and prairie dog activities affect nutrients, as soil P and N under burrows are typically higher and lower, respectively, than mound-edge soils (Carlson and White 1987). Soil P accumulation is apparently a result of breakdown of prairie dog waste and bones. Nitrogen reduction may be caused by reduction in plant material growing in the mound. While total N may be decreased, the rate of N turnover is more important in terms of site productivity (Wedin 1992). The turnover rate increases with herbivory and disturbance. Carlson and White (1987) investigated colony soils on the edges of mounds, but not in intermound areas.

See also Oldemeyer et al. (1993) for information on effects on soils.

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Wikipedia

Black-tailed prairie dog

The black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), is a rodent of the family Sciuridae found in the Great Plains of North America from about the USA-Canada border to the USA-Mexico border. Unlike some other prairie dogs, these animals do not truly hibernate. The black-tailed prairie dog can be seen above ground in midwinter. A black-tailed prairie dog town in Texas was reported to cover 64,000 km2 (25,000 sq mi) and included 400,000,000 individuals. Prior to habitat destruction, this species may have been the most abundant prairie dog in central North America. This species was one of two described by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the journals and diaries of their expedition.

Description[edit]

Black-tailed prairie dogs are generally tan in color, with lighter-colored bellies. Their tails have black tips, from which their name is derived. Adults can weigh from 1.5 to 3 lb (0.68 to 1.36 kg), males are typically heavier than females. Body length is normally from 14 to 17 in (36 to 43 cm), with a 3 to 4 in (7.6 to 10.2 cm) tail.

Distribution[edit]

The historic range of the black-tailed prairie dog was from southern Saskatchewan to Chihuahua, Mexico,[3] and included portions of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.[4] As of 2007, black-tailed prairie dogs occur across most of their historic range, excluding Arizona;[5][6] however, their occupied acreage and populations are well below historic levels.[7]

Habits[edit]

Black-tailed prairie dogs are diurnal.[5][8][9] Above ground activity is reduced when rain or snow is falling and during days when the temperature exceeds 100°F (38°C).[8][9] They do not hibernate, but may become dormant for short periods.[8][9][10]

Habitat[edit]

Black-tailed prairie dogs are native to grassland habitats in North America. They inhabit shortgrass prairie,[6][11][12] mixed-grass prairie,[6][13][14][15][16][17] sagebrush steppe,[11][18] and desert grassland.[3][19]

Habitat preferences for the black-tailed prairie dog are influenced by vegetative cover type, slope, soil type, and amount of rainfall.[20] Their foraging and burrowing activities influence environmental heterogeneity, hydrology, nutrient cycling, biodiversity, landscape architecture, and plant succession in grassland habitats.[8][9][14][16][21][22]

Landscape-scale habitat characteristics[edit]

At Paignton Zoo, Devon, England

Black-tailed prairie dogs inhabit grasslands, including short- and mixed-grass prairie, sagebrush steppe, and desert grasslands. Shortgrass prairies dominated by buffalo grass (Buchloe dactyloides), blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), and western wheatgrass (Pascopyron smithii),[8][9][13][23] and mixed-grass prairies [6][13][14][15][16][17] that have been grazed by native and nonnative herbivores are their preferred habitat.[9][18] Slopes of 2% to 5% and vegetation heights between 3 and 5 inches (7–13 cm) are optimal for detecting predators and facilitating communication.[8][9][13]

In the Great Plains region, black-tailed prairie dog colonies commonly occur near rivers and creeks.[9] Of 86 colonies located in Mellette County, South Dakota, 30 were located on benches or terraces adjacent to a creek or floodplain, 30 occurred in rolling hills with a slope more than 5°, 20 were in flat areas, and six were in badland areas.[24] The slopes of playa lakes in the Texas Panhandle and surrounding regions are used as habitat for the black-tailed prairie dog.[25] Colonies in Phillips County, Montana, were often associated with reservoirs, cattle salting grounds, and other areas affected by humans.[20]

Black-tailed prairie dogs tolerate "high degrees" of disturbance over long periods of time. New colonies are rarely created on rangeland in "good" to "excellent" condition; however, continuously, long-term, heavily grazed land reduces habitat quality due to soil erosion.[26] Black-tailed prairie dogs may colonize heavily grazed sites, but do not necessarily specialize in colonizing overgrazed areas. Overgrazing may occur subsequent to their colonization.[27] Black-tailed prairie dogs were associated with areas intensively grazed by livestock and/or areas where topsoil had been disturbed by human activities in sagebrush-grassland habitat on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and Fort Belknap Agency, Montana. Roads and cattle trails were found in 150 of 154 black-tailed prairie dog colonies, and colonies were located significantly closer to livestock water developments and homestead sites than randomly located points.[18]

Soil[edit]

Black-tailed prairie dog distribution is not limited by soil type, but by indirect effects of soil texture on moisture and vegetation. Colonies occur in many types of soil, including deep, alluvial soils with medium to fine textures, and occasionally gravel. Soil not prone to collapsing or flooding is preferred.[9] Though they do not select specific types of soil to dig burrows,[8] silty loam clay soils are best for tunnel construction.[9] Surface soil textures in colonies near Fort Collins, Colorado, varied from sandy loam to sandy clay loam in the top 6 inches (15 cm), with a sandy clay loam subsoil. In northern latitudes, black-tailed prairie dog colonies commonly occur on south aspects due to the dominance of grasses over shrubs and increased solar radiation during winter. Burrows usually occur on slopes more than 10°.[9]

Black-tailed prairie dogs mix the soil horizons by raising soil from deeper layers to the surface. This may significantly affect the texture and composition of soil at different layers. Their feces, urine, and carcasses also affect soil characteristics.[9]

Home range and population density[edit]

The home range and territorial boundaries of black-tailed prairie dogs are determined by the area occupied by an individual coterie. Coteries typically occupy about 1.0 acre (0.4 ha).[9]

Population density and growth are influenced by habitat quality [8] and are restricted by topographic barriers, soil structure, tall vegetation, and social conditions.[8][9] Urbanization and other types of human development may restrict colony size and spatial distribution. Most plains habitats support at least 13 black-tailed prairie dogs/ha.[9]

Cover requirements[edit]

Two adults

Subterranean burrows created by black-tailed prairie dogs serve as refuges from the external environment and are one of the most important features of their colonies. Burrows are used for breeding, rearing young, and hiding from predators, and are maintained from generation to generation, and serve as stabilizers on the physical and social aspects of the colony.[8] Black-tailed prairie dog nests are located underground in burrows and are composed of fine, dried grass. Nest material is collected throughout the year by both sexes and all age classes.[5][8] Tunnel depths in central Oklahoma were typically four to five feet (50–60 inches) deep.[28] Most colonies contain 20 to 57 burrows/acre.[8][9]

The three types of burrow entrances are: dome mounds, rimmed crater mounds, and entrances without structures around them. Entrance features may prevent flooding and/or aid in ventilation.[5][8][9] Dome mounds consist of loosely packed subterranean soil spread widely around the entrance of the burrow, and tend to be vegetated by prostrate forbs. Rimmed crater mounds are cone-shaped and constructed of humus, litter, uprooted vegetation, and mineral soil. Black-tailed prairie dogs compact the soil of these mounds with their noses, creating poor sites for seedling establishment.[15] Rimmed crater mounds may be used as wallowing sites for American bison. Burrow entrances without structures around them are usually located on slopes more than 10°.[8] The density of burrow openings depends on both substrate and duration of occupation of an area.[9]

Vegetation heights between three and five inches (7–13 cm) and a slope of 2° to 5° are optimal for detecting predators and facilitating communication among black-tailed prairie dogs.[8][9][13] Grazing cattle keep vegetation short in the vicinity of colonies, reducing susceptibility to predators and potentially expanding colony size.[8][9][19][23] Black-tailed prairie dogs were rarely seen feeding more than 16 feet (5 m) from colony edges in Wind Cave National Park.[16]

Diet[edit]

Cynomys ludovicianus gathering grass

Black-tailed prairie dogs are selective opportunists, preferring certain phenological stages or types of vegetation according to their needs.[8][13][29] When forage is stressed by grazing, drought, or herbicides, they change their diets quickly. Grasses are preferred over forbs,[9][23] and may comprise more than 75% of their diets, especially during summer.[23][29] Western wheatgrass, buffalo grass, blue grama [8][9][29] and sedges (Carex spp.) are preferred during spring and summer. Scarlet globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea) [8][14][23][29] and Russian thistle (Salsola kali) [30] are preferred during late summer and fall, but are sought out during every season.[9][14][23] During winter, plains prickly pear (Opuntia polyacantha), Russian thistle, and underground roots are preferred.[8][29] Shrubs such as rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.), winterfat (Krascheninnikovia lanata), saltbush (Atriplex spp.), and sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) are also commonly eaten.[30] Water, which is generally not available on the short-grass prairie, is obtained from vegetation such as plains prickly pear.[29] Koford [9] estimated one black-tailed prairie dog eats approximately 7 lbs (3 kg) of herbage per month during summer.[30] Cutworms,[30] grasshoppers,[9] and old or fresh American bison scat are occasionally eaten.[5] For a detailed list of foods eaten by black-tailed prairie dogs by month, and ratings of those foods' forage value to cattle and sheep, see.[30] For a complete list of vegetation preferred by the black-tailed prairie dog, see.[31]

Social organization[edit]

Black-tailed prairie dogs live in colonies. Colony size may range from five to thousands of individuals, and may be subdivided into two or more wards, based on topographic features, such as hills. Wards are usually subdivided into two or more coteries, which are composed of aggregates of highly territorial, harem-polygynous social groups.[8][9] Individuals within coteries are amicable with each other and hostile towards outside individuals. At the beginning of the breeding season, a coterie is typically composed of one adult male, three to four adult females, and several yearlings and juveniles of both sexes. After the breeding season and prior to dispersal of juveniles, coterie size increases.[8]

Dispersal[edit]

Reasons for dispersal include new vegetative growth at colony peripheries, shortage of unrelated females in a coterie, harassment of females by juveniles, and probably an innate genetic mechanism responding to increased density within a colony. Males typically leave the natal territory 12 to 14 months after weaning, during May and June,[32] but dispersal may occur throughout the year. Females generally remain in their natal coterie territories for their lifetimes. Intercolony dispersers moved an average distance of 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from their natal site.[32] Roads and trails may facilitate black-tailed prairie dog dispersal.[9]

Communication[edit]

Constantine Slobodchikoff and others assert that prairie dogs use a sophisticated system of vocal communication to describe specific predators.[33] According to them, prairie dog calls contain specific information as to what the predator is, how big it is and how fast it is approaching.[33] These have been described as a form of grammar. According to Slobodchikoff, these calls, with their individuality in response to a specific predator, imply prairie dogs have highly developed cognitive abilities.[33] He also asserts prairie dogs have calls for things that are not predators to them. This is cited as evidence that the animals have a very descriptive language and have calls for any potential threat.[33]

There is debate over whether the alarm calling of prairie dogs is selfish or altruistic. Prairie dogs possibly alarm others to the presence of a predator so they can protect themselves. However, the calls possibly are meant to cause confusion and panic in the groups and cause the others to be more conspicuous to the predator than the caller. Studies of black-tailed prairie dogs suggest alarm calling is a form of kin selection, as a prairie dog’s call alerts both offspring and kin of indirect descent, such as cousins, nephews and nieces.[34] Prairie dogs with kin close by called more often than those that did not. In addition, the caller may be trying to make itself more noticeable to the predator.[34] However, a predator seems to have difficulty determining which prairie dog is making the call due to its "ventriloquistic" nature.[34] Also, when a prairie dog makes a call, the others seem to not run into the burrows, but stand on the mounds to see where the predator is, making themselves visible to the predator.[34]

Perhaps the most conspicuous prairie dog communication is the territorial call or "jump-yip" display. A prairie dog will stretch the length of its body vertically and throw its forefeet into the air while making a call. A jump-yip from one prairie dog causes others nearby to do the same.[35]

Reproduction and development[edit]

Six-week-old black-tailed prairie dog
Two juveniles at the Rio Grande Zoo

Age of first reproduction, pregnancy rate, litter size, juvenile growth rate, and first-year survival of the black-tailed prairie dog vary depending on food availability.[16]

Mating[edit]

Minimum breeding age for the black-tailed prairie dog is usually two years,[5][8][9] but yearlings may breed if space and food are abundant.[8][9] In Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota, 40% (213 individuals) of yearling females copulated and 9% successfully weaned a litter.[10]

The mating season occurs from late February through April, but varies with latitude and site location of the colony.[8][9] Estrus occurs for only one day during the breeding season.[10]

Reproductive success[edit]

In Wind Cave National Park, the mean percentage of adult females that weaned a litter each year was 47% ± 14%.[32] Reproductive success and survival may be greater in young colonies that have space for expansion. In a young colony (five years) with space for expansion, in Wind Cave National Park, 88% females were pregnant and 81% of young weaned, compared to an old colony (30 years) with no room for expansion, where 90% of females were pregnant and 41% of young were weaned.[16]

Gestation period and litter size[edit]

Black-tailed prairie dog gestation is 34 days.[5][8] Parturition occurs underground. Information about litter size at time of birth is unavailable, but the mean litter size observed above ground ranges from 3.0 to 4.9 young/litter.[8][9][10][32] Only one litter is produced each year.[10][32]

Development[edit]

In captivity, black-tailed prairie dog pups open their eyes at 30 days old.[8] Pups are altricial and remain below ground for up to seven weeks to nurse.[8][9][10] Maturity is complete at 15 months old.[8] Lifespan of the black-tailed prairie dog in the wild is unknown, but males more than three years old experience high mortality. Females may live longer than males.[8] According to Hoogland and others,[32] lifespan is about five years for males and seven years for females.

Mortality[edit]

Major mortality factors include predation, disease, infanticide, habitat loss, poisoning, trapping, and shooting.[5][10][11][32] Survival for the first year was 54% for females and less than 50% for males in Wind Cave National Park. Primary causes of death were predation and infanticide.[10] Infanticide partially or totally eliminated 39% (361 individuals) of all litters. Lactating females were the most common killers.[10] Mortality of young was highest due to heavy predation during the winter and early spring following birth.[8] Mortality increases with dispersal from a colony or coterie.[9]

Sylvatic plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, can quickly eliminate entire black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Once infected, death occurs within a few days.[5][11] Black-tailed prairie dogs are also susceptible to diseases transmitted by introduced animals.[36]

Predators[edit]

The most common predators of black-tailed prairie dogs are coyotes (Canis latrans),[5][8][16][37] American badgers (Taxidea taxus),[5][9][16][37] bobcats (Lynx rufus),[5][8][37] golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos),[5][8][9][37] ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis),[5][37] red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis),[8] and prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis).[8][9][37] Although now very rare, black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) were once a major predator of the black-tailed prairie dog.[37]

Ecological role and threats[edit]

Black-tailed prairie dogs have been called "ecosystem engineers" due to their influence on the biotic and abiotic characteristics of their habitat, landscape architecture, and ecosystem structure and function.[3][38] Research suggests black-tailed prairie dogs are a keystone species[3][10][38] in some, but not all, geographic areas.[3] Black-tailed prairie dogs enhance the diversity of vegetation, vertebrates, and invertebrates through their foraging and burrowing activities and by their presence as prey items.[3][28][38][39] Grasslands inhabited by black-tailed prairie dogs support higher biodiversity than grasslands not occupied by them. See Ceballos and others [38] for a simplified diagram of black-tailed prairie dog activities and impacts in grassland ecosystem function and biological diversity.

Hundreds of species of vertebrates [6][40] and invertebrates[28] are associated with black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Vertebrate species richness on their colonies increases with colony size and density.[20] West of the Missouri River in Montana, 40% (100 species) of all vertebrate fauna in prairie habitats rely on black-tailed prairie dog colonies for food, nesting, and/or denning. Rare and declining species, such as the black-footed ferret,[6][37][40] swift fox (Vulpes velox), mountain plover (Charadrius montanus),[20] and burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia)[5] are associated with colonies.[6] Because their foraging activities keep plant development in a suppressed vegetative state with higher nutritional qualities,[19][40] herbivores, including red deer (Cervus elaphus), American bison, pronghorn (Antilocapra americana), and domestic cattle often prefer foraging in black-tailed prairie dog colonies.[5][8][9][14][18][21][23][39][40] Animals that depend on herbaceous cover in sagebrush habitat, such as mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and sage grouse (Centrocercus spp.), may be deterred by the decreased vegetative cover on black-tailed prairie dog colonies.[17] For a list of vertebrate species associated with black-tailed prairie dog colonies, see.[41]

Biodiversity in shortgrass prairies may be at risk due to the reductions in distribution and occurrence of black-tailed prairie dog. Threats include fragmentation and loss of habitat, unregulated eradication or control efforts, and sylvatic plague.[6][7] As a result of habitat fragmentation and prairie dog eradication programs, colonies are now smaller and more fragmented than in presettlement times. Agriculture, livestock use, and other development have reduced habitat to 2% of its former range.[6] Fragmented colonies are more susceptible to extirpation, primarily by sylvatic plague. The effect of roads on black-tailed prairie dogs is debatable. Roads may either facilitate or hinder their movement, depending on the landscape setting. Roads may be easy routes for dispersal, but those with heavy automobile use may increase mortality.[11][18] Roads, streams, and lakes may serve as barriers to sylvatic plague.[11]

Conservation status[edit]

Kissing prairie dogs

Black-tailed prairie dogs are frequently exterminated from ranchland, being viewed as pests. Their habitat has been fragmented, and their numbers have been greatly reduced. Additionally, they are remarkably susceptible to plague.[42] In 2006, all eight appearances of plague in black-tailed prairie dog colonies resulted in total colony loss. Studies in 1961 estimated only 364,000 acres (1,470 km2) of occupied black-tailed prairie dog habitat in the United States. A second study in 2000 showed 676,000 acres (2,740 km2). However, a comprehensive study between 10 states and various tribes in 2004 estimated 1,842,000 acres (7,450 km2) in the United States, plus an additional 51,589 acres (208.77 km2) in Mexico and Canada. Based on the 2004 studies, the US Fish and Wildlife Service removed the black-tailed prairie dog from the Endangered Species Act Candidate Species List in August 2004.[43]

Interactions with domestic livestock[edit]

A black-tailed prairie dog eating a peanut

While black-tailed prairie dogs are often regarded as competitors with livestock for available forage, evidence of impacts on rangelands are mixed. Some research suggests they have either neutral or beneficial effects on rangeland used by livestock;[9][14][23][39] however, their effects on rangelands are not uniform.[17][21] In Cimarron National Grassland in southwest Kansas and adjacent private lands in Baca County, Colorado, some vegetational differences were detected between areas colonized by black-tailed prairie dogs and uncolonized areas, although not all differences were consistent between sample years. Species richness and diversity indices did not differ among colonized and uncolonized sites in either year, nor did the amount of bare ground. The authors conclude while prairie dogs alter shortgrass prairie such that the vegetation of colonies tends to be distinct from adjacent uncolonized areas, “prairie dogs do not substantially alter the essential character of shortgrass vegetation”.[22] Cattle neither significantly preferred nor avoided black-tailed prairie dog colonies in a study in the shortgrass steppe of northeastern Colorado. Cattle used colonies in proportion to the colony's availability, and grazed as intensively on colonies as on areas not occupied by black-tailed prairie dogs.[12]

Competitive interactions between black-tailed prairie dogs and domestic livestock for preferred forage species are unclear. Several studies suggest black-tailed prairie dogs avoid eating many plants that livestock prefer, and prefer many plants livestock avoid.[21][39] Conversely, on shortgrass prairie in Colorado, cattle and black-tailed prairie dogs had a 64% similarity in annual diets.[23]

Some changes in plant composition brought about by black-tailed prairie dogs may benefit livestock by encouraging an increase in plants more tolerant of grazing, such as needleleaf sedge (Carex duriuscula), sixweeks grass (Vulpia octoflora), and scarlet globemallow.[14][40] Grazing by black-tailed prairie dogs may also improve the nutritional qualities of some plants.[19][40] On a shortgrass prairie near Fort Collins, Colorado, plant species diversity was greater inside black-tailed prairie dog colonies than outside of colonies, and perennial grasses such as buffalo grass and forbs increased.[14] While black-tailed prairie dog colonies at Wind Cave National Park typically had lower levels of plant biomass and were dominated by forbs, plants growing on prairie dog colonies had higher leaf nitrogen concentrations than plants in mixed-grass prairie outside colonies. Foraging by black-tailed prairie dogs does not significantly affect steer weights.[23][39] While forage availability and use by cattle decreased in black-tailed prairie dog foraging areas, steer weight was not reduced significantly in either of two years of study at the USDA's Southern Great Plains Experimental Range near Woodward, Oklahoma. Nutrient cycling, increased soil fertility, and subsequent changes in forage quality partly compensated for reduced forage availability.[39]

Pet trade[edit]

Black-tailed prairie dogs were the most common prairie dog species collected in the wild for sale as exotic pets, until this trade was banned in 2003 by the United States federal government. Prairie dogs in captivity at the time of the ban are allowed to be possessed under a grandfather clause, but no more may be caught, traded, or sold, and transport is only permitted to and from a veterinarian under proper quarantine procedures. The ban was officially lifted on September 8, 2008.[44]

References[edit]

 This article incorporates public domain material from the United States Department of Agriculture document "Cynomys ludovicianus".

  1. ^ Linzey, A. V. & NatureServe (Reichel, J. D., Hammerson, G., Cannings, S. & Wallace, R.) (2008). Cynomys ludovicianus. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
  2. ^ IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) 2008. Cynomys ludovicianus. In: IUCN 2014. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3
    http://www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 29 January 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Davidson, Ana D.; Lightfoot, David C. (2006). "Keystone rodent interactions: prairie dogs and kangaroo rats structure the biotic composition of a desertified grassland". Ecography 29 (5): 755–765. doi:10.1111/j.2006.0906-7590.04699.x. 
  4. ^ Hall, E. Raymond; Kelson, Keith R. 1959. The mammals of North America. New York: Ronald Press Company.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Johnsgard, Paul A. 2005. Prairie dog empire: A saga of the shortgrass prairie. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mulhern, Daniel W.; Knowles, Craig J. 1997. Black-tailed prairie dog status and future conservation planning. In: Uresk, Daniel W.; Schenbeck, Greg L.; O'Rourke, James T., tech. coords. Conserving biodiversity on native rangelands: symposium proceedings; 1995 August 17; Fort Robinson State Park, NE. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-GTR-298. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 19–29.
  7. ^ a b Luce, Robert J. 2006. A multi-state approach to black-tailed prairie dog conservation and management in the United States. In: Basurto, Xavier; Hadley, Diana, eds. Grasslands ecosystems, endangered species, and sustainable ranching in the Mexico-U.S. borderlands: conference proceedings. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 48–52.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al King, John A. 1955. Social behavior, social organization, and population dynamics in a black-tailed prairie dog town in the Black Hills of South Dakota. In: Contributions from the Laboratory of Vertebrate Biology. Number 67. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al Koford, Carl B. 1958. Prairie dogs, whitefaces, and blue grama. Wildlife Monographs No. 3. Washington, DC: The Wildlife Society.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hoogland, John L (2001). "Black-tailed, Gunnison's, and Utah prairie dogs reproduce slowly". Journal of Mammalogy 82 (4): 917–927. doi:10.1644/1545-1542(2001)082<0917:BTGSAU>2.0.CO;2. JSTOR 1383470. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f Collinge, Sharon K.; Johnson, Whitney C.; Ray, Chris; Matchett, Randy; Grensten, John; Cully Jr., Jack F.; Gage, Kenneth L.; Kosoy, Michael Y. et al. (2005). "Landscape Structure and Plague Occurrence in Black-tailed Prairie Dogs on Grasslands of the Western USA". Landscape Ecology 20 (8): 941–955. doi:10.1007/s10980-005-4617-5. 
  12. ^ a b Guenther, Debra A.; Detling, James K. (2003). "Observations of cattle use of prairie dog towns". Journal of Range Management 56 (5): 410–417. JSTOR 4003830. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f Clippinger, Norman W. 1989. Habitat suitability index models: black-tailed prairie dog. Biol. Rep. 82 (10.156). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bonham, Charles D.; Lerwick, Alton. (1976). "Vegetation changes induced by prairie dogs on shortgrass range". Journal of Range Management 29 (3): 221–225. doi:10.2307/3897280. JSTOR 3897280. 
  15. ^ a b c Cincotta, Richard P.; Uresk, Daniel W.; Hansen, Richard M. 1989. Plant compositional change in a colony of black-tailed prairie dogs in South Dakota. In: Bjugstad, Ardell J.; Uresk, Daniel W.; Hamre, R. H., tech. coords. 9th Great Plains wildlife damage control workshop proceedings; 1989 April 17–20; Fort Collins, CO. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-171. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 171–177.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h Garrett, Monte G.; Hoogland, John L.; Franklin, William L (1982). "Demographic differences between an old and a new colony of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus)". The American Midland Naturalist 108 (1): 51–59. doi:10.2307/2425291. JSTOR 2425291. 
  17. ^ a b c d Johnson-Nistler, Carolyn M.; Sowell, Bok F.; Sherwood, Harrie W.; Wambolt, Carl L. (2004). "Black-tailed prairie dog effects on Montana's mixed-grass prairie". Rangeland Ecology & Management 57 (6): 641. doi:10.2111/1551-5028(2004)057[0641:BPDEOM]2.0.CO;2. ISSN 1551-5028. 
  18. ^ a b c d e Craig J. Knowles (1986). "Some relationships of black-tailed prairie dogs to livestock grazing". Western North American Naturalist 46 (2): 198–203. 
  19. ^ a b c d Long, Dustin; Truett, Joe. 2006. Ranching and prairie dogs. In: Basurto, Xavier; Hadley, Diana, eds. Grasslands ecosystems, endangered species, and sustainable ranching in the Mexico-U.S. borderlands: conference proceedings. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 87–89.
  20. ^ a b c d Reading, Richard P.; Beissinger, Steven R.; Grensten, John J.; Clark, Tim W. 1989. Attributes of black-tailed prairie dog colonies in northcentral Montana, with management recommendations for the conservation of biodiversity. In: Clark, Tim W.; Hinckley, Dan; Rich, Terrell, eds. The prairie dog ecosystem: managing for biological diversity. Montana BLM Wildlife Tech. Bull. No. 2. Billings, MT: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management: 13–27. In cooperation with: Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks.
  21. ^ a b c d Coppock, D. L.; Detling, J. K.; Ellis, J. E.; Dyer, M. I. (1983). "Plant-herbivore interactions on a North American mixed-grass prairie". Oecologia 56 (1): 1–9. doi:10.1007/BF00378210. JSTOR 4216853. 
  22. ^ a b Winter, Stephen L.; Cully, Jack F.; Pontius, Jeffrey S (2002). "Vegetation of prairie dog colonies and non-colonized shortgrass prairie". Journal of Range Management 55 (5): 502–508. doi:10.2307/4003230. JSTOR 4003230. 
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hansen, Richard M.; Gold, Ilyse K. (1977). "Black-tailed prairie dogs, desert cottontails and cattle trophic relations on shortgrass range". Journal of Range Management 30 (3): 210–214. doi:10.2307/3897472. JSTOR 3897472. 
  24. ^ Hillman, Conrad N.; Linder, Raymond L.; Dahlgren, Robert B. (1979). "Prairie dog distribution in areas inhabited by black-footed ferrets". American Midland Naturalist 102 (1): 185–187. doi:10.2307/2425083. JSTOR 2425083. 
  25. ^ Pruett, Alison L.; Boal, Clint W.; Wallace, Mark C.; Whitlaw, Heather; Ray, Jim. 2004. Playa lakes as habitat reserves for black-tailed prairie dogs. In: Wallace, Mark C.; Britton, Carlton, eds. Research Highlights – 2004: Range, wildlife, and fisheries management. Volume 35. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University: 17.
  26. ^ Rickel, Bryce. 2005. Chapter 3: small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. In: Finch, Deborah M., ed. Assessment of grassland ecosystem conditions in the southwestern United States: wildlife and fish—volume 2. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-135-vol. 2. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 35–69
  27. ^ Stobodchikoff, C. N.; Robinson, Anthony; Schaack, Clark. 1988. Habitat use by Gunnison's prairie dogs. In: Szaro, Robert C.; Severson, Kieth E.; Patton, David R., technical coordinators. Management of amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals in North America: Proceedings of the symposium; 1988 July 19–21; Flagstaff, AZ. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-166. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station: 403–408.
  28. ^ a b c Wilcomb, Maxwell Jeffers, Jr. 1954. A study of prairie dog burrow systems and the ecology of their arthropod inhabitants in central Oklahoma. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma. Dissertation.
  29. ^ a b c d e f Fagerstone, K. A.; Tietjen, H. P.; Williams, O. (1981). "Seasonal variation in the diet of black-tailed prairie dogs". Journal of Mammalogy 62 (4): 820–824. doi:10.2307/1380605. JSTOR 1380605. 
  30. ^ a b c d e Kelso, Leon H. 1939. Food habits of prairie dogs. Circ. No. 529. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1–15
  31. ^ Roe, Kelly A.; Roe, Christopher M (2003). "Habitat selection guidelines for black-tailed prairie dog relocations". Wildlife Society Bulletin 31 (4): 1246–1253. JSTOR 3784475. 
  32. ^ a b c d e f g Hoogland, John L.; Angell, Diane K.; Daley, James G.; Radcliffe, Matthew C. 1988. Demography and population dynamics of prairie dogs. In: Uresk, Daniel W.; Schenbeck, Greg L.; Cefkin, Rose, tech coords. 8th Great Plains wildlife damage control workshop proceedings; 1987 April 28–30; Rapid City, SD. Gen. Tech. Rep. RM-154. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment station: 18–22.
  33. ^ a b c d Slobodchikoff, C. N. (2002) "Cognition and Communication in Prairie Dogs", In: The Cognitive Animal (pp. 257-264), M. Beckoff, C. Allen, and G. M. Burghardt (eds) Cambridge: A Bradford Book.
  34. ^ a b c d Hoogland, J.L. (1995) The Black- tailed Prairie Dog: Social Life of a Burrowing Mammal, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press
  35. ^ Hoogland, J. 1996. Cynomys ludovicianus. Mammalian Species, 535: 1-10.
  36. ^ Brown, David E.; Davis, Russell. 1998. Terrestrial bird and mammal distribution changes in the American Southwest, 1890–1990. In: Tellman, Barbara; Finch, Deborah M.; Edminster, Carl; Hamre, Robert, eds. The future of arid grasslands: identifying issues, seeking solutions: Proceedings; 1996 October 9–13; Tucson, AZ. Proceedings RMRS-P-3. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 47–64.
  37. ^ a b c d e f g h Hillman, Conrad N. 1968. Life history and ecology of the black-footed ferret in the wild. Brookings, SD: South Dakota State University. Thesis.
  38. ^ a b c d Ceballos, G; Pacheco, Jesús; List, Rurik (1999). "Influence of prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) on habitat heterogeneity and mammalian diversity in Mexico". Journal of Arid Environments 41 (2): 161–172. doi:10.1006/jare.1998.0479. 
  39. ^ a b c d e f O'Meilia, M. E.; Knopf, F. L.; Lewis, J. C. (1982). "Some consequences of competition between prairie dogs and beef cattle". Journal of Range Management 35 (5): 580–585. doi:10.2307/3898641. JSTOR 3898641. 
  40. ^ a b c d e f Sharps, Jon C.; Uresk, Daniel W (1990). "Ecological review of black-tailed prairie dogs and associated species in western South Dakota". The Great Basin Naturalist 50 (4): 339–344. 
  41. ^ Campbell, Thomas M., III; Clark, Tim W (1981). "Colony characteristics and vertebrate associates of white-tailed and black-tailed prairie dogs in Wyoming". The American Midland Naturalist 105 (2): 269–276. doi:10.2307/2424745. JSTOR 2424745. 
  42. ^ Webb, C. T.; Brooks, C. P.; Gage, K. L.; Antolin, M. F. (2006). "Classic flea-borne transmission does not drive plague epizootics in prairie dogs". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (16): 6236–6241. doi:10.1073/pnas.0510090103. PMC 1434514. PMID 16603630. 
  43. ^ Black-tailed prairie dog United States Fish and Wildlife Service
  44. ^ Federal Register: Control of Communicable Diseases; Restrictions on African Rodents, prairie dogs, and Certain Other Animals

Further reading[edit]

Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Source: Wikipedia

Unreviewed

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Hall (1981) listed two subspecies of black-tailed prairie dog, the nominate form and the Arizona prairie dog (C. ludovicianus arizonensis). Recent genetic study suggests that the Arizona form does not qualify for subspecies status (Chesser 1979). Hoffmeister (1986) regarded the species as monotypic. Thorington and Hoffmann (in Wilson and Reeder 2005) nevertheless recognized two subspecies (arizonensis and ludovicianus). Some question still exists about the possible subspecific status of certain populations, especially that in the Tularosa Basin of southern New Mexico (Hubbard 1992).

Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 (CC BY-NC 3.0)

© NatureServe

Source: NatureServe

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Synonyms

Subspecies:

Cynomys arizonensis Mearns=

   Cynomys ludovicianus arizonensis Mearns

Arctomys ludoviciana Ord

Cynomys ludovicianus Baird

Cynomys socialis Rafinesque

Monax missouriensis Warden

Arctomys latrans Harlan

Cynomys cinereus Richardson

Cynomys pyrrotrichus Elliot=

   Cynomys ludovicianus ludovicianus (Ord) [54]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

The currently accepted scientific name for the black-tailed prairie dog is Cynomys ludovicianus
(Ord) [6,54,56,145].
Although not typically distinguished, 2 subspecies were described by Hall
[54]:

   Cynomys ludovicianus arizonensis Mearns

   Cynomys ludovicianus ludovicianus (Ord) [54]

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Common Names

black-tailed prairie dog

plains prairie dog

Trusted

Article rating from 0 people

Default rating: 2.5 of 5

Disclaimer

EOL content is automatically assembled from many different content providers. As a result, from time to time you may find pages on EOL that are confusing.

To request an improvement, please leave a comment on the page. Thank you!