Black-tailed prairie dogs (BTPD; Cynomys ludovicianus) have often been labeled as keystone species because of their ability to strongly influence grassland ecosystems. I used line-transect surveys and distance sampling to compare breeding bird and mammal communities on shortgrass prairie occupied by BTPD colonies versus similar uncolonized habitat in New Mexico, and to identify species that were either strongly associated with, or that avoided, BTPD colonies. Overall, I detected 32 bird and 8 mammal species during three years. Mountain plover (Charadrius montanus), ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis), burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), curve-billed thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre), desert cottontail (Sylvilagus audubonii), and American badger (Taxidea taxus) were more abundant on, or at least strongly associated with, colonies, while long-billed curlew (Numenius americanus), horned lark (Eremophila alpestris), vesper sparrow (Poecetes gramineus), lark sparrow (Chondestes grammacus), Cassin's sparrow (Aimophila cassinii), and western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) were more abundant on, or strongly associated with, uncolonized prairie. Observed responses of several species differed from other studies suggesting that a species' response to BTPD activities may vary by location, grassland type, or season. Although BTPDs negatively impacted a suite of grassland bird species, biodiversity is maximized in this landscape by maintaining a mixture of colonized and uncolonized habitats.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Earth-Surface Processes