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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: The Prairie Dog Story: Do We Have It Right?

Authors
item Vermeire, Lance
item Heitschmidt, Rodney
item Johnson, Patricia - SDSU
item Sowell, Bok - MONTANA STATE UNIV

Submitted to: Bioscience
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: February 23, 2004
Publication Date: July 1, 2004
Citation: Vermeire, L.T., Heitschmidt, R.K., Johnson, P.S., Sowell, B.F. 2004. The prairie dog story: do we have it right?. Bioscience 54(7)689-695.

Interpretive Summary: Views have become polarized with increased interest in black-tailed prairie dogs. We evaluated three claims frequently made relative to the status of black-tailed prairie dogs and their interactions with other species: 1) Historically, black-tailed prairie dogs occupied 40-100 million ha; 2) Large ungulates preferentially forage on prairie dog colonies; and 3) Prairie dogs do not reduce carrying capacity for large herbivores. The conclusion that prairie dogs historically occupied more than 40 million ha is not supported by literature and early 20th century estimates were artificially high due to human activities. Prairie dog activity does not uniquely facilitate grazing by large herbivores and selection of colonies for foraging is limited to specific conditions including colony age, proximity, and season of the year. Finally, prairie dogs reduce carrying capacity for large herbivores by consuming forage, clipping plants to increase visibility, building mounds, and changing plant cover and species composition.

Technical Abstract: Views have become polarized with increased interest in black-tailed prairie dogs. We evaluated three claims frequently made relative to the status of black-tailed prairie dogs and their interactions with other species: 1) Historically, black-tailed prairie dogs occupied 40-100 million ha; 2) Large ungulates preferentially forage on prairie dog colonies; and 3) Prairie dogs do not reduce carrying capacity for large herbivores. The conclusion that prairie dogs historically occupied more than 40 million ha is not supported by literature and early 20th century estimates were artificially high due to human activities. Prairie dog activity does not uniquely facilitate grazing by large herbivores and selection of colonies for foraging is limited to specific conditions including colony age, proximity, and season of the year. Finally, prairie dogs reduce carrying capacity for large herbivores by consuming forage, clipping plants to increase visibility, building mounds, and changing plant cover and species composition.

Last Modified: 12/20/2014
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