Gunnison's Prairie Dog Use of Resource Pulses: Capture Data
Seasonal environments experience cyclical or unpredictable pulses in plant growth that provide important resources for animal populations, and may affect the diversity and persistence of animal communities that utilize these resources. The timing of breeding cycles and other biological activities must be compatible with the availability of critical resources for animal species to exploit these resource pulses; failure to match animal needs with available energy can cause population declines. Adult Gunnison’s prairie dogs emerge from hibernation and breed in early spring, when plant growth is linked to cool-season precipitation and is primarily represented by the more nutritious and digestible plants that utilize the C3 photosynthetic pathway. In contrast, summer rainfall stimulates growth of less nutritious plants using the C4 photosynthetic pathway. Prairie dogs should therefore produce young during times of increased productivity from C3 plants, while pre-hibernation accumulation of body fat should rely more heavily upon C4 plants. If seasonal availability of high-quality food sources is important to Gunnison’s prairie dog population growth, projected changes in climate that alter the intensity or timing of these resource pulses could result in loss or decline of prairie dog populations. This project will test the hypothesis that population characteristics of Gunnison's prairie dog, an imperiled grassland herbivore, are associated with climate-based influences on pulses of plant growth.