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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Spatiotemporal dynamics of black-tailed prairie dog colonies affected by plague

Authors
item Augustine, David
item Matchett, Marc - USFWS
item Toombs, Theodore - ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENSE
item Cully, Jack - USGS
item Johnson, Tammi - UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
item Sidle, John - USDA-FS

Submitted to: Landscape Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: October 18, 2007
Publication Date: December 5, 2007
Citation: Augustine, D.J., Matchett, M.R., Toombs, T.P., Cully, J.F., Johnson, T.L., Sidle, J.G. 2007. Spatiotemporal dynamics of black-tailed prairie dog colonies affected by plague. Landscape Ecology 23:255-267.

Interpretive Summary: Black-tailed prairie dogs occur throughout semi-arid grasslands of central North America, and can have a strong influence on the plant and animal communities where they occur. However, little is known about how the distribution of prairie dogs may change within grasslands over long time periods. We studied changes in the distribution of prairie dog colonies over approximately one decade in southeastern Colorado (Comanche) and northcentral Montana (Phillips County) where prairie dogs have been strongly affected by plague. We compared these areas to colonies unaffected by plague in northwestern Nebraska (Oglala). In both plague-affected areas, colonies fluctuated dramatically in size and location over a decade, but the two areas differed in their spatial patterns. Colonies in the Comanche study area in shortgrass steppe shifted locations over a decade. Only 10% of the area occupied in 1995 was still occupied by prairie dogs in 2006. In 2005 and 2006 respectively, 74% and 83% of the total area occurred in locations that were not occupied in 1995. In contrast, prairie dogs in the Phillips County study area in mixed-grass prairie and sagebrush steppe primarily recolonized previously occupied areas after plague-induced colony declines. In this case, 62% of the area occupied in 1993 was also occupied by prairie dogs in 2004. Our results show that plague accelerates the movement of prairie dog colonies over time and in space, and may have significant implications for landscape-scale effects of prairie dog disturbance on grassland composition and productivity.

Technical Abstract: Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are a key component of the disturbance regime in semi-arid grasslands of central North America. Many studies have compared community and ecosystem characteristics on prairie dog colonies to grasslands without prairie dogs, but little is known about landscape-scale patterns of disturbance that prairie dog colony complexes may impose on grasslands over long time periods. We examined spatiotemporal dynamics in two prairie dog colony complexes in southeastern Colorado (Comanche) and northcentral Montana (Phillips County) that have been strongly influenced by plague, and compared them to a complex unaffected by plague in northwestern Nebraska (Oglala). Both plague-affected complexes exhibited substantial spatiotemporal variability in the area occupied during a decade, in contrast to the stability of colonies in the Oglala complex. However, the plague-affected complexes differed in spatial patterns of colony movement. Colonies in the Comanche complex in shortgrass steppe shifted locations over a decade. Only 10% of the area occupied in 1995 was still occupied by prairie dogs in 2006. In 2005 and 2006 respectively, 74% and 83% of the total area of the Comanche complex occurred in locations that were not occupied in 1995. In contrast, prairie dogs in the Phillips County complex in mixed-grass prairie and sagebrush steppe primarily recolonized previously occupied areas after plague-induced colony declines. In this complex, 62% of the area occupied in 1993 was also occupied by prairie dogs in 2004. Our results show that plague accelerates spatiotemporal movement of prairie dog colonies, and may have significant implications for landscape-scale effects of prairie dog disturbance on grassland composition and productivity. These findings highlight the need to combine landscape-scale measures of habitat suitability with long-term measures of colony locations to understand the role of plague-affected prairie dogs as a grassland disturbance process.

Last Modified: 11/26/2014
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