Gunnison's Prairie Dog Relocation Project

Core Areas: 

The Sevilleta Gunnison’s Prairie Dog (Cynomys gunnisoni) Relocation project examines keystone consumer (herbivore) effects on grassland in concert with ecological restoration of a “species of greatest conservation need in New Mexico” (NMG&F Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy, 2007). SevLTER partners directly with Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico Game and Fish, USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station and non-profit Prairie Dog Pals on this ambitious effort to re-establish Gunnison’s prairie dogs to blue grama dominated (Bouteloua gracilis) Great Plains grassland at the foothills of the Los Pinos Mountains on Sevilleta. While engaged in wildlife management aimed at translocation of approximately 3000 individual prairie dogs, ultimately establishing 5-6 colonies over a 500 ha area, SevLTER is focusing resources on monitoring population dynamics of reintroduced prairie dogs and their effects on vegetation production and diversity, soil disturbance and grasshopper community composition. In this experiment, prairie dogs act as the treatment on a grassland site where the species was extirpated 40 years ago. The long term nature of the project lies in the course of re-establishing prairie dogs combined with the ultimate research goal of describing the functional role of Gunnison’s prairie dogs in an arid grassland ecosystem: first we are challenged to develop and document an economical and efficient management strategy which maximizes reintroduction success and colony survival; second we are tasked with monitoring prairie dog dynamics and their effects on the grassland throughout re-establishment and into a future state, when presumably management intervention will have subsided and we characterize the ecosystem as ‘restored’ – both in the face of highly variable abiotic inputs such as precipitation and temperature and biotic impacts such as predation.