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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #399298

Research Project: Adaptive Grazing Management and Decision Support to Enhance Ecosystem Services in the Western Great Plains

Location: Rangeland Resources & Systems Research

Title: Present and future suitable habitat for the black-tailed prairie dog ecosystem

item DAVIDSON, ANA - Colorado State University
item FINK, MICHELLE - Colorado State University
item MENEFEE, MICHAEL - Colorado State University
item STERLING-KRANK, LINDSEY - Humane Society International, Usa
item VAN PELT, BILL - Western Association Of Fish And Wildlife Agencies
item Augustine, David

Submitted to: Biological Conservation
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/11/2023
Publication Date: 9/28/2023
Citation: Davidson, A., Fink, M., Menefee, M., Sterling-Krank, L., Van Pelt, B., Augustine, D.J. 2023. Present and future suitable habitat for the black-tailed prairie dog ecosystem. Biological Conservation. 206. Article 110241.

Interpretive Summary: Historically, the black-tailed prairie dog was distributed widely across the Great Plains of the United States. Today their distribution is much reduced, particularly as a result of grassland conversion to cultivated cropland. Maps of where high-quality suitable habitat still remains are needed to guide conservation and restoration efforts for black-tailed prairie dogs. We developed a habitat suitability model for black-tailed prairie dogs that quantified how factors such as soil texture, topography, and climate as well as habitat loss to cropland and woody plant encroachment affect the current distribution of high-quality habitat across their range in the US. This included all 11 states where prairie dogs occurred historically. Map products were based on a suite of modelling techniques that included generalized linear mixed models combined with machine-learning methods (Random Forest and Boosted Regression trees). We also modelled how the distribution of habitat is expected to change over the next 80 years under two potential climate change scenarios. Resulting map products are all available online, and highlight specific regions of southeast Colorado, east-central Wyoming, and western South Dakota as having the largest extant regions of ecologically suitable habitat for prairie dog conservation.

Technical Abstract: Aim: To develop a habitat suitability model (HSM) for the black-tailed prairie dog (BTPD) ecosystem across their historical geographic range within the United States. Location: Central Grasslands of the United States. Methods: We used an ensemble HSM approach and spatial analysis combining ecological and climatic variables to identify suitable habitat for the black-tailed prairie dog ecosystem, both under today’s current climate and projected under two future climate scenarios (2100: warm and wet; hot and dry). Results: We identified 20.8 million hectares of suitable grassland habitat for the black-tailed prairie dog ecosystem, indicating that large areas of quality habitat remain across the western half of their historic range. We also identified a significant northward expansion of their geographic range with future climate change scenarios, with a concomitant decline in habitat suitability across the southern Central Grasslands. Main Conclusions: Our results show that there is substantial conservation potential for the BTPD ecosystem, given the large amount of remaining available habitat, especially across the western portion of their historical range. Currently, however, only ~1.9 million hectares (0.9%) of this habitat are estimated to be occupied by BTPDs. The recovery of the black-tailed prairie dog ecosystem is a complex, multidimensional, socio-ecological challenge. The maps we generated in this analysis provide the basis to carry out spatial analyses that also consider the social, political and threat landscapes and to incorporate such findings into other large-scale, multi-species conservation planning efforts being developed for the Central Grasslands of North America.