, Volume 138, Issue 4, pp 592–602

Black-tailed prairie dogs and the structure of avian communities on the shortgrass plains

Community Ecology

DOI: 10.1007/s00442-003-1465-3

Cite this article as:
Smith, G.A. & Lomolino, M.V. Oecologia (2004) 138: 592. doi:10.1007/s00442-003-1465-3


We tested the hypothesis that black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) influence avian community structure on the shortgrass prairie. We surveyed 36 prairie dog towns and 36 paired sites without prairie dogs during summer and fall of 1997, 1998, and 1999 in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Our surveys totaled 9,040 individual observations for 73 avian species. Significantly distinct avian communities were present on prairie dog towns when compared to sites within four different macrohabitats of the surrounding landscape: open rangeland, scrub/sandsage (Artemisia filifolia) habitats, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) plots, and fallow crop fields. Relative densities of all bird species combined was higher on prairie dog towns versus paired sites in summer and fall. Mean species richness of birds was significantly higher on prairie dog towns than paired sites during summer, but there were no significant differences in fall. Open rangeland had the highest mean species richness in fall. Assemblages of avian communities differed significantly between prairie dog towns and the four macrohabitat types during summer. Burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia), killdeer (Charadrius vociferous), horned larks (Eremophila alpestris), and meadowlarks (Sturnella spp.) were positively and significantly associated with prairie dog towns during summer, while horned larks and ferruginous hawks (Buteo regalis) were significantly associated with prairie dog towns during fall. Even in their current remnant state, black-tailed prairie dogs continue to play a significant role in the assembly of ecological communities across the Great Plains. Conservation of prairie dogs goes well beyond a single species, and is an important strategy for the preservation of the prairie ecosystem as a whole.


Biological diversity Conservation Fragmentation Grassland birds Keystone species 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology and Oklahoma Biological SurveyUniversity of OklahomaNormanUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental and Forest BiologyState University of New York College of Environmental Science and ForestrySyracuseUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesEmporia State UniversityEmporiaUSA

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