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Black-tailed prairie dog declines in northwestern Mexico: species-habitat relationships in a changing landscape Open Access


Other title
population declines
black-tailed prairie dogs
Cynomys ludovicianus
desert grasslands
edge of distribution
species-habitat relationships
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Avila-Flores, Rafael
Supervisor and department
Boutin, Stan A. (Biological Sciences)
Foote, Lee (Renewable Resources)
Murie, Jan O. (Biological Sciences)
Boyce, Mark S. (Biological Sciences)
Examining committee member and department
Boutin, Stan A. (Biological Sciences)
Lomolino, Mark V. (Environmental and Forest Biology, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry)
Foote, Lee (Renewable Resources)
Murie, Jan O. (Biological Sciences)
Boyce, Mark S. (Biological Sciences)
Bayne, Erin (Biological Sciences)
Department of Biological Sciences

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
One of the three largest systems of black-tailed prairie dog (BTPD) colonies is located in northwestern Chihuahua, Mexico. During the last two decades, the area occupied by these colonies has been highly reduced and fragmented. Previous studies suggested that agriculture, poisoning, cattle overgrazing and shrub encroachment could be the factors responsible for such declines. However, the severe drought occurring in the region between 1994 and 2004 has not been considered in this equation. Because these populations occur in arid regions at the southern edge of the species range, they could be especially sensitive to changes in plant productivity. Furthermore, fragmentation of colonies may accelerate population declines due to size and isolation effects. In this study, I analyzed species-habitat relationships at different spatial and temporal scales to understand the causes of recent declines of BTPDs in northwestern Chihuahua. The most severe loss of colony area and most local extinctions occurred between 1988 and 2000, but most likely before 1997. Extinction of colonies before 2000 mostly occurred at small and isolated colonies in low-productivity areas. The coincidence of greatest area decline with the occurrence of most intense drought suggests a prominent role of drought in the population collapse. Overall, patterns of BTPD occurrence and abundance in Chihuahua are greatly influenced by spatial and temporal variation in forage cover. Although BTPDs were more likely to occur in open areas with short vegetation, increased forage cover positively predicted occurrence. High levels of forage cover during the dry season were positively related with BTPD density, juvenile production and population rate of change, but forage cover during the preceding rainy season was a negative predictor of demographic indices. High plant productivity during humid periods seems to have negative impacts on BTPD populations, presumably because the rapid plant growth reduces visibility and predator detection by BTPDs. The most influential landscape variable was the effective isolation of colonies. Although increased isolation may reduce the probability of occurrence at a given site, highly isolated locations may support high population densities. Contrary to my original predictions, I did not detect significant impacts of human-related factors on BTPD distribution and abundance.
License granted by Rafael Avila-Flores ( on 2009-06-30T18:10:44Z (GMT): Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of the above terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis, and except as herein provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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