The University of Arizona

Vegetation of prairie dog colonies and non-colonized shortgrass prairie.

S.L. Winter, J.F. Cully, J.S. Pontius


Black-tailed prairie dogs have declined by 98% in the past century. Due to continued declines, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the species as a candidate for listing in 2000. Prairie dogs foster both plant and animal diversity, and their continued presence is a concern in the Great Plains. We compared vegetation structure and composition of black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus Ord) colonies in southwest Kansas and southeast Colorado to non-colonized grassland in 1996, and 1997. Dominant species on prairie dog colonies were Bouteloua gracilis (H. B. K.) Lag. ex Griffiths (14% cover in 1996, 15% in 1997), Buchloe dactyloides (Nutt.) Engelm. (7% cover in 1996, 17% in 1997) and Aristida purpurea Nutt. (9% cover in 1996, 16% in 1997). Dominant vegetation at randomly selected non-colonized sites were Bouteloua curtipendula (Michx.) Torr. (16% cover in 1996, 18% in 1997), Bouteloua gracilis (13% cover in 1996, 17% in 1997) and Buchloe dactyloides (5% cover in 1996, 5% in 1997). Non-colonized shortgrass sites were dominated by Bouteloua gracilis (23% cover in 1996, 41% in 1997) and Buchloe dactyloides (8% cover in 1996, 12% in 1997). Cover of grass was higher (P < 0.01) on random sites (44%) than on prairie dog colonies (31%) or shortgrass sites (33%) in 1996, whereas cover of forbs was higher (P < 0.01) on prairie dog colonies (18%) than on random sites (7%) or shortgrass sites (8%) that year. Vegetation height was greater (Q = 3.66) and visual obstruction was greater (Q = 3.39) on random sites (33.6 and 6.4 cm, respectively) than on prairie dog colonies (9.5 and 2.5 cm, respectively) in 1997, the only year these variables were measured. Percent bare ground did not differ (P > 0.05) among treatments either year. While components of the vegetation on prairie dog colonies differed from that found on non-colonized sites, the vegetation of prairie dog colonies was, nonetheless, characteristic of a shortgrass region. Prairie dogs undoubtably alter vegetation structure and composition in shortgrass prairie, and likely have a great influence on landscape heterogeneity, but our results suggest that shortgrass prairie is well adapted to the herbivory and soil disturbing activities of prairie dogs.



Aristida purpurea;Cynomys ludovicianus;Bouteloua curtipendula;Buchloe dactyloides;habitats;Kansas;species diversity;shortgrass prairie;vegetation;Bouteloua gracilis;plant density;botanical composition;canopy;Colorado

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