Conference Paper

Prairie dogs in the Chihuahuan Desert: history, ecology, conservation

Conference: Proceedings of the 6th Symposium on the Natural Resources of the Chihuahuan Desert


The region we know as the Chihuahuan Desert has supported black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) for at least 40,000 years, more widely in the late Pleistocene than since. In the past, prairie dog populations expanded and contracted with the abundance of large grazers, control efforts by people, episodes of sylvatic plague, and recently in some areas, habitat loss to agriculture. Chihuahuan Desert populations may be more sensitive than those elsewhere to human persecution and intensity of grazing, but the hot, dry climate may help insulate populations from sylvatic plague. With prudent management of livestock in rangelands, the Chihuahuan Desert may be as well or better suited than some other regions for long-term maintenance of prairie dog populations, albeit at lower densities, and associated species.


Available from: Chuck L Hayes
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    • "The geographical range of prairie dogs has been very dynamic, undergoing several contraction and expansion events, but with constant presence in the central area of the Great Plains (Goodwin, 1995; Truett et al., 2006). "
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    ABSTRACT: The hypothesis that endemic species could have originated by the isolation and divergence of peripheral populations of widespread species can be tested through the use of ecological niche models (ENMs) and statistical phylogeography. The joint use of these tools provides complementary perspectives on historical dynamics and allows testing hypotheses regarding the origin of endemic taxa. We used this approach to infer the historical processes that have influenced the origin of a species endemic to the Mexican Plateau (Cynomys mexicanus) and its divergence from a widespread ancestor (Cynomys ludovicianus), and to test whether this endemic species originated through peripatric speciation. We obtained genetic data for 295 individuals for two species of black-tailed prairie dogs (C. ludovicianus and C. mexicanus). Genetic data consisted of mitochondrial DNA sequences (cytochrome b and control region), and 10 nuclear microsatellite loci. We estimated dates of divergence between species and between lineages within each species and performed ecological niche modelling (Present, Last Glacial Maximum and Last Interglacial) to determine changes in the distribution range of both species during the Pleistocene. Finally, we used Bayesian inference methods (DIYABC) to test different hypotheses regarding the divergence and demographic history of these species. Data supported the hypothesis of the origin of C. mexicanus from a peripheral population isolated during the Pleistocene [∼230,000 years ago (0.1 – 0.43 Ma 95% HPD)], with a Pleistocene-Holocene (∼9,000 − 11,000 years ago) population expansion (∼10-fold increase in population size). We identified the presence of two possible refugia in the southern area of the distribution range of C. ludovicianus and another, consistent with the distribution range of C. mexicanus. Our analyses suggest that Pleistocene climate change had a strong impact in the distribution of these species, promoting peripatric speciation for the origin of C. mexicanus and lineage divergence within C. ludovicianus.
    Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 09/2015; DOI:10.1016/j.ympev.2015.08.027 · 3.92 Impact Factor
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    Duval · whitford ·
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    ABSTRACT: n the western United States, human activities have decreased black-­‐tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) populations to <10% of their historic extent. These animals are ecosystem engineers that radically alter soil physical and chemical characteristics and plant communities on their colonies. We tested the hypothesis that prairie dogs have an impact on higher levels of grassland ecology by measuring the differences in arthropod community structure and burrowing owl foraging on those arthropods, between reintroduced colonies and adjacent grassland in southern New Mexico, USA. Arthropod communities differed be-­‐ tween colonies and grassland in both number of taxa and abundance. Burrowing owls foraged more on colonies, and caught more prey on colonies compared to grasslands. Pursuit times of burrowing owls in grass-­‐ land were longer than pursuits on colonies. Burrowing owls nesting on the edge of colonies foraged extensively on colonies, and edge and center-­‐nesting owls delivered similar proportions of prey captured on colonies to their nests. This study suggests that prairie dogs play a vital role in structuring arthropod communities and provide foraging resources for other grassland species.
    11/2012; DOI:10.7332/
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    Journal of Raptor Research 12/2015; 49(4):389-399. DOI:10.3356/rapt-49-04-389-399.1 · 0.63 Impact Factor