Cooperative Research Units
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Status and management of black-tailed prairie dogs on small cultural parks of the western Great Plains


May 2008 - December 2011


The first objective of the proposed research is to establish baseline information on the population size and demographic parameters of resident prairie dogs at the four parks. We will include age specific birth and death rates, which will then be used to estimate population growth rates and to identify portions of the population that might be targeted to regulate population growth where management deems control necessary. Because prairie dog dispersal consists of both short distance (within colony) and long distance (beyond the colony) dispersal, we will seek to identify environmental and/or demographic factors that might explicate why an animal embarks on long-distance rather than short-distance dispersal from the natal social group. Specific tasks are as follows:
1. Map and identify changes in active areas occupied by prairie dogs at each park.
2. Determine population density (number of animals per ha) at one colony at each park.
3. Determine age (juvenile, yearling, adult) and sex specific survival and reproductive rates at each study colony.
4. Use demographic data of females (from objective 3) to estimate annual population growth rates at each study colony.
5. Track local dispersal movements of dye-marked individuals within colonies and long-distance dispersal of radio-collared individuals away from colonies.
6. Identify intrinsic (sex, age, condition) and extrinsic (population density, food availability) factors that are correlated with dispersal.
Information from this study will provide detailed information about the status and trends in prairie dog numbers and area occupied at the four parks. It will also provide information about how changes in those trends should impact prairie dog short- and long-distance movements. These movements are the main source of prairie dog management conflicts, both within the parks, and with adjacent landowners. At the very least the study will define the magnitude of the dispersal problem, and we expect that it will lead to new ideas about how to control dispersal in ways that do not conflict with park management policies. In addition, the status information will be essential for studies to examine other conservation issues with respect to prairie dogs' ecological role in supporting plant diversity as well as the diversity of other wildlife species.

The second Objective is to identify the extent of prairie dog burrowing activity at the Santa Fe Trail wagon-rut site at Fort Larned. Specific tasks are as follows:
1. Map colony boundary.
2. GPS the location of each burrow and give a specific identification number.
3. Designate burrow to type (crater, mound, or hole).
4. Measure the length, width, and height of each crater or mound.
5. Develop a Geographic information system database for data.
The area of mounds and craters will give a first approximation of the area of disturbance to the Santa Fe Trail ruts within the park.

The third objective is to test the accuracy of the visual population estimation procedure developed by Plumb et al. (2001) and in use at Scotts Bluff. The visual count data will be compared to the mark-recapture population estimate from the trap analyses, corrected for area as described in Objective 1, task 2. If necessary, we will use the corrected mark-recapture data to recalibrate the estimation equations in Plumb et al. (2001) to reflect our new data. We will compare the visual estimates calculated with the new equations in years 2 and 3, to test their robustness.

The fourth objective is to identify species that occur with prairie dog colonies at the four parks. We will conduct a literature survey of primary literature, check online museum collection databases, survey the recent Park Service inventory and monitoring databases, and check written records at each park. These lists will provide information on vertebrate species that may suffer adverse effects if prairie dog numbers decline or if they disappear. This objective will result in a better understanding of prairie dog role(s) within and contribution(s) to native ecosystems diversity and function associated with each of the parks. Additionally, results from this portion of the study will increase each parks ability to better assess the potential impacts to associated species as a result of prairie dog control activities.


Current Staff

Federal Staff: 101

Masters Students: 232

Phd Students: 160

Post Docs: 58

University Staff: 268

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 677

Scientific Publications: 1887

Presentations: 4313



  • Jack CullyPrincipal Investigator

Funding Agencies

  • Natural Resources Preservation Program (NRPP)

Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey