Historically, black-tailed prairie dogs were likely one of the most abundant mammals on the Great Plains. Habitat loss, persecution and disease (plague) have drastically reduced their numbers, however, and they now reside on only a fraction of their historical range. They reach the northern limit of this range in southern Saskatchewan, and the entire Canadian population is comprised of 19 colonies in and around Grasslands National Park. We are working closely with Parks Canada and the Calgary Zoo to better understand the ecology of black-tailed prairie dogs in Canada. Specifically, we’re interested in overwinter strategies of individuals and the determinants variation in survival and reproductive success. We are also working with Todd Shury (Parks Canada and Western College of Veterinary Medicine) and Neil Chilton (U. Saskatchewan, Biology) to better understand how the risks of plague to the population vary across space and time. This research program is relatively new (started summer 2014) and we are working towards a complete colony-level census and are collecting information on individual phenologies (e.g., parturition dates), overwinter survival and reproductive success. Prairie dogs have been called ‘ecosystem engineers’ and their presence on the landscape has positive implications for myriad prairie species (e.g., burrowing owls and swift fox). Most notably, one of the most endangered mammals in North America, the black-footed ferret, is a prairie dog specialist. A well-functioning prairie ecosystem relies on the existence of prairie dogs.
Current Gradute Students Involved: Deborah Hawkshaw (M.Sc student)
Former Graduate Students Involved: Colleen Crill (M.Sc.) Jillian Kusch (M.Sc.)