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ARS Home » Plains Area » Mandan, North Dakota » Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #311613

Research Project: New Technologies to Enhance Sustainability of Northern Great Plains Grasslands

Location: Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory

Title: Soil change induced by prairie dogs across three ecological sites

Author
item Liebig, Mark

Submitted to: CSA News
Publication Type: Popular Publication
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/3/2014
Publication Date: 12/1/2014
Publication URL: http://handle.nal.usda.gov/10113/60258
Citation: Liebig, M.A. 2014. Soil change induced by prairie dogs across three ecological sites. CSA News. 59:12. p. 13.

Interpretive Summary: Soil-specific responses to prairie dog activity can contribute to increased variability of rangeland landscapes. Unfortunately, few studies have addressed soil responses caused by prairie dog activity across a range of soil types and landscapes. In this study, we sought to quantify prairie dog effects on soil properties and infiltration rate within three ecological sites differing in soil and landscape attributes in north central South Dakota, USA. Prairie dog effects on soil properties were found to differ across ecological sites, with sites on footslope and backslope landscape positions exhibiting more pronounced soil responses than sites higher on the landscape. Prairie dog activity contributed to considerable variability in soil properties within ecological sites, with mound areas being acidified and high in available nutrients and soil organic carbon compared to areas near the mound or areas without prairie dogs. Mound areas also possessed faster infiltration rates than areas near the mound and areas without prairie dogs for sites on backslope and shoulder/summit landscape positions. Prairie dog-induced changes in soil variability should be considered when implementing management recommendations to improve rangeland health.

Technical Abstract: Prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) can influence vegetation dynamics and landscape hydrology by altering soil properties, yet few studies have evaluated soil responses to prairie dog activities across a range of soil types. This study was conducted to quantify prairie dog effects on soil properties within three unique ecological sites differing in soil and landscape attributes on a 1400 ha ranch near McLaughlin, SD, USA. Soil properties and infiltration rate were evaluated within thin claypan, loamy, and shallow loamy ecological sites with and without prairie dog activity, with sites corresponding to footslope, backslope, and summit/shoulder landscape positions, respectively. Prairie dog effects on soil properties differed by ecological site, with thin claypan and loamy sites exhibiting more pronounced soil responses across depths than the shallow loamy site. Within ecological sites, prairie dog activity contributed to soil heterogeneity, with on-mound areas characterized as acidified, nutrient 'hot spots' compared to off-mound and control areas. On-mound areas possessed faster infiltration rates than off-mound and control areas within loamy and shallow loamy ecological sites. Soil organic C was greater in on-mound areas compared to off-mound and control areas, but only at intermediate depths (10 to 30 cm). Results from this study suggest post-extirpation efforts to improve rangeland health should consider soil heterogeneity induced by prairie dog activity.