Visual counts as an index of White-Tailed Prairie Dog density

Wildlife Society Bulletin
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Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) are depended on prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) for food and shelter and were historically restricted to prairie dog towns (Anderson et al. 1986). Because ferrets and prairie dogs are closely associated, successful ferret management and conservation depends on successful prairie dog management. A critical component of any management program for ferrets will be monitoring prairie dog population dynamics on towns containing ferrets or on towns proposed as ferret reintroduction sites.

Three techniques for estimating prairie dog population size and density are counts of plugged and reopened burrows (Tietjen and Matschke 1982), mark-recapture (Otis et al. 1978; Seber 1982, 1986; Menkens and Anderson 1989), and visual counts (Fagerstone and Biggins 1986, Knowles 1986). The technique of plugging burrows and counting the number reopened by prairie dogs is too time and labor intensive for population evaluation on a large number of towns or over large areas. Total burrow counts are not correlated with white-tailed prairie dog (C. leucurus) densities and thus cannot be used for populated evaluation (Menkens et al. 1988). Mark-recapture requires trapping that is expensive and time and labor intensive. Monitoring a large number of prairie dog populations using mark-recapture would be difficult. Alternatively a large number of populations could be monitored in short periods of time using the visual count technique (Fagerstone and Biggins 1986, Knowles 1986). However, the accuracy of visual counts has only been evaluated in a few locations. Thus, it is not known whether the relationship between counts and prairie dog density is consistent throughout the prairie dog's range. Our objective was to evaluate the potential of using visual counts as a rapid means of estimating white-tailed prairie dog density in prairie dog towns throughout Wyoming.

We studied 18 white-tailed prairie dog towns in 4 white-tailed prairie dog complexes in Wyoming near Laramie (105°40'W, 41°20'N, 3 grids), Pathfinder reservoir (106°55'W, 42°30'N, 6 grids), Shirley Basin (106°10'W, 42°20'N, 6 grids), and Meeteetse (108°10'W, 44°10'N, 3 grids). All towns were dominated by grasses, forbs, and shrubs (details in Collins and Lichvar 1986). Topography of towns ranged from flat to gently rolling hills.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Visual counts as an index of White-Tailed Prairie Dog density
Series title Wildlife Society Bulletin
Volume 18
Issue 3
Year Published 1990
Language English
Publisher Wildlife Society
Publisher location Bethesda, MD
Description 7 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Wildlife Society Bulletin
First page 290
Last page 296
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