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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #243616

Title: Camel spider (Solifugae) use of prairie dog colonies

item DUVAL, BEN - Northern Arizona University
item WHITFORD, WALTER - New Mexico State University

Submitted to: Western North American Naturalist
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/31/2009
Publication Date: 7/31/2009
Citation: Duval, B.D., Whitford, W.G. 2009. Camel spider (Solifugae) use of prairie dog colonies. Western North American Naturalist. 69:272-276.

Interpretive Summary: Black-tailed prairie dogs were once common throughout regions of western North America. For a variety of reasons, including policies that encouraged poisoning of prairie dogs and the introduction and spread of sylvatic plague carried by fleas, prairie dogs and their colonies (typically about 100 acres in size) are much less common today. However, there is an increasing interest in reintroducing prairie dogs into known areas of prior occupation on public lands in the west. These interests have prompted research on basic ecological elements of prairie dogs colonies in an effort to understand the effects and ramifications of reintroduction. This study examined a single component of prairie dog towns – a particular species of spider that is both an important predator and an important prey species in western U.S. deserts. This study clearly showed that these camel spiders are more common in areas of prairie dog and their colonies. Their presence may be an important explanation of the observed differences in the species that exist within prairie dog colonies compared to areas where prairie dogs are not absent.

Technical Abstract: Solifugids (camel spiders) are widespread throughout arid regions of western North America and are thought to be important in structuring desert arthropod communities. Despite the ubiquity of camel spiders, little is known about their ecology. Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are also widespread in western North America and are important ecosystem engineers, but they have been reduced in extent because of human activity. Here we report significantly greater numbers of camel spiders on black-tailed prairie dog colonies in southern New Mexico. The difference in vegetation structure created by prairie dog activity is likely the reason for the increased prevalence of camel spiders on colonies. Because camel spiders are important predators and prey, the observation that colonies support higher numbers of these animals provides a mechanism explaining differences in arthropod communities on and off colonies and explaining the preferential foraging behavior of vertebrates associated with prairie dog colonies.