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Comparison of methods to estimate population densities of black-tailed prairie dogs


Severson, Kieth E.; Plumb, Glenn E. 1999. Comparison of methods to estimate population densities of black-tailed prairie dogs. Wildlife Society Bulletin. 26(4): 859-866.

Recent reintroduction of the black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) in west-central South Dakota has focused new attention on black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicanus), because prairie dog colonies provide essential habitat for ferrets. Currently, management agencies are assessing prairie dog populations by counting active burrows, a technique that is attracting criticism. We correlated active and total burrow counts with prairie dog mark-recapture population estimates from 12 colonies located in Badlands National Park and adjacent Buffalo Gap National Grassland. We also correlated visual counts of prairie dogs and counts of mounds from aerial photographs with mark-recapture estimates to assess an alternative method to index populations. We found no significant relationships (P > 0.05) with any form of active burrow or total burrow counts (ground or aerial) using the linear model Y = a + bX. However, visual counts of prairie dogs, using maximum rather than mean values, on 4-ha plots were significantly related (P < 0.0138). The best model was Y = 3.04 + 0.40X, where Y is the maximum visual count and X is the estimated population density. The inverse of this equation X = (Y - 3.04)/(0.40), could be used to index numbers of black-tailed prairie dogs from visual counts under conditions similar to those encountered in this study. An 8-point protocol for making visual counts is provided.

Keywords: burrow counts, Cynomys ludovicianus, mark-recapture, Mustela nigripes, population density, South Dakota, visual count


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Title: RMRS Other Publications: Comparison of methods to estimate population densities of black-tailed prairie dogs
Electronic Publish Date: September 23, 2008
Last Update:
September 23, 2008

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