Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)




Black-tailed prairie dog* (Cynomyt ludlvicianus) are a keystone species that were once widespread throughout the Great Plains. Beginning in the 1900* however, black- tailed prairie dogs experienced serious reductions in range an numbers such that recent estimates suggest they inhabit only 2% of their historic range. As a result of the decline in numbers and range, black-tailed prairie dogs arc currently a candidate species for protection under the endangered species act. Because of the species’ status as a candidate species and their importance as a keystone species, conservation biologists and resource managers are interested in developing effective management approaches directed towards the conservation and restoration of black-tilled prairie dogs throughout their range.

This thesis is comprises! of four chapters that examine various aspects of the population ecology and expansion dynamics of black-tailed prairie dogs in western Nonh Dakota. Chapter one reviews the life history of black-lailed prairie dogs, and discusses current issues regarding the conservation and management of the species, Chapter two describes an experimental study designed to assess the effects of habitat manipulations on the foraging behavior, habitat use, and colony-level expansion of prairie dog*. In Chapter three, a habitat suitability index model for black-tailed prairie dogs was developed to provide biologists and resource managers with sound information to help focus conservation efforts in areas that will mos t likely support healthy population* of prairie dogs, Finally, Chapter four estimates both prairie dog density and abundance to help determine the status of prairie dogs in western North Dakota.

To evaluate how habitat manipulation influences colony boundary dynamics, 1 used a combination of prescribed bums and mechanical brush removal to assess how changes in habitat quality may influence prairie dog behavior, habitat use and colony- level expansion compared to control plots with no habitat manipulations. After two years of conducting behavioral observations and monitoring colony boundary expansion into the treatment plots I found that prairie dogs disproportionately foraged, burrowed, and expanded into experimental treatment plots compared to control plots.

I developed various habitat suitability index model to identify suitable and potential prairie dog habitat in the Little Missouri National Grasslands and at Theodore Rovscvclt National Park. Several environmental variables were evaluated as potentially contributing to habitat quality for prairie dogs. Model validation indicated that a positive species habitat- relationship was found between high quality habitat and habitat preference for prairie dogs and that all models performed well in identifying areas of potential prairie dog habitat.

1 used visual counts methods to assess prairie dog density and abundance in the Medora and McKenzie Ranger Districts of the Little Missouri National Grasslands and in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Considerable variation was present in prairie dog density within the Little Missouri National Grasslands and Theodore Roosevelt National Park, however estimated prairie dog densities were within the range of colony densities for black-tailed prairie dogs in the region.