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

ABSTRACT 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.

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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.
    Immediate Science Ecology. 11/2012;

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