Gunnison's Prairie Dog Restoration Experiment (GPDREx): Small Mammal Mark-Recapture Population Assessment within Grasslands at the Sevilleta National Widlife Refuge, New Mexico (2013-2014)



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. With this project, we would like to further investigate the impact that Gunnison’s prairie dogs have on the landscape.  Gunnison’s prairie dog monitoring data has been collected from the beginning of the reintroduction project, but little information has been collected on how grassland species respond to the sudden presence of prairie dogs on the refuge.

This project will help determine if the prairie dog reintroduction has had positive impacts on the grassland ecosystem.  Prairie dogs benefit grasslands in many ways, but their role as ecosystem engineers directly impacts other species by creating new habitat that would not be present without prairie dogs.  We have documented physical landscape changes, but we have not specifically documented benefits to other grassland species.  This work will help determine if the reintroduced prairie dog populations on Sevilleta NWR are now acting as a keystone species in a grassland ecosystem by monitoring small mammal populations to see if species richness, diversity, and density are different on prairie dog colonized areas versus non-colonized areas.

Data set ID: 


Date Range: 

Thursday, December 12, 2013 to Friday, June 27, 2014

Publication Date: 

Friday, January 9, 2015



Additional Project roles: 


Data Manager