Prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) are burrowing rodents considered to be ecosystem engineers and keystone species of the central grasslands of North America. Yet, prairie dog populations have declined by an estimated 98% throughout their historic range. This dramatic decline has resulted in the widespread loss of their important ecological role throughout this grassland system. The 92,060 ha Sevilleta NWR in central New Mexico includes more than 54,000 ha of native grassland. Gunnison’s prairie dogs (C. gunnisoni) were reported to occupy ~15,000 ha of what is now the SNWR during the 1960’s, prior to their systematic eradication. In 2010, we collaborated with local agencies and conservation organizations to restore the functional role of prairie dogs to the grassland system. Gunnison’s prairie dogs were reintroduced to a site that was occupied by prairie dogs 40 years ago. This work is part of a larger, long-term study where we are studying the ecological effects of prairie dogs as they re-colonize the grassland ecosystem.
Two replicate paired 16 ha plots were established in spring 2010. Each pair consists of a treatment plot with prairie dogs (reintroduced), which are plots B and D and a control plot with no prairie dogs (plots A and C). There are 4 other plots (E,F,G, and H) but they are not set up to do vegetation sampling.
Baseline vegetation sampling occurred at the end of April 2010. A second sampling was done at the end of September 2011. There was no other vegetation sampling until September 2013, at which time it will be collected consistently every spring and fall.
Percent live plant canopy cover and height of live foliage of all plant species are measured using 0.25 m2 vegetation sampling quadrats at the end of the growing season each spring (late April) and late summer (early September). The 50x50 cm vegetation measurement frame has a string grid which partitions the frame into 25, 10x10 cm squares. One quarter of a 10x10 cm grid cell equals 1% cover. Therefore each 10x10 cm cell has a 4% cover value. Vegetation measurements range from 0.1 to 100%. A cover of 0.1 represents a plant species trace occurrence on the quad. The next smallest measurement is 1%, or ¼ of a 10x10 cm grid cell. Cover is measured to the nearest 1% for 1-10% cover and to the nearest 5% for 10-100% cover. Total cover for a particular plant species is measured by counting the number of 10x10 cm cells occupied by the foliage canopy, multiplying that value by 4 and rounding to the nearest 5% for total cover greater than 10%. Typical maximum plant canopy height for each species is also measured to the nearest centimeter.
More information about who is involved with the samples/data:
Terri Koontz 2010
Amaris Swann 2011
John Mulhouse 2011
Stephanie Baker 2011-present
Megan McClung 2013-present
Chandra Tucker 2014-present
Study Site Information:
The SevLTER Prairie Dog Project 16 ha study plots are located east of the Blue Grama Core site at the foothill of the Los Pinos Mountains and along Test Well Road. It is a grassland dominated by blue grama grass, with associated grass species consisting of black grama, galleta, purple three-awn, sand muhly, and dropseed. Yucca and Cholla cactus are the dominant shrubs at the site.
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