, Volume 56, Issue 1, pp 10-15

First online:

Plant-herbivore interactions in a North American mixed-grass prairie

II. Responses of bison to modification of vegetation by prairie dogs
  • D. L. CoppockAffiliated withNatural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University
  • , J. E. EllisAffiliated withNatural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University
  • , J. K. DetlingAffiliated withNatural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State University
  • , M. I. DyerAffiliated withEnvironmental Resources Section, Environmental Science Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratories

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Studies were conducted during the 1979 growing season to examine how North American bison (Bison bison) use prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies in Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. Objectives included (1) determining whether bison selected for prairie dog towns parkwide; (2) characterizing in greater detail bison use patterns of a 36-ha colony in Pringle Valley as a function of time since prairie dog colonization; and (3) relating these bison use patterns to measured changes in structure and nutritional value of vegetation on and off the dog town.

During midsummer, prairie dog towns were one of the most frequently used habitats by bison parkwide. Day-long observations at Pringle Valley revealed that bison exerted strong selection (nearly 90% of all habitat use and feeding time) for the dog town, which occupied only 39% of the valley. While there, they partitioned their use of the colony by grazing in moderately affected areas (occupied <8 years by prairie dogs) and by resting in the oldest area (>26 years occupation).

Prairie dogs facilitate bison habitat selection for a shortgrass successional stage in this mixed-grass community by causing a broad array of compositional, structural, and nutritional changes in the vegetation.