Aerial surveys adjusted by ground surveys to estimate area occupied by black-tailed prairie dog colonies

Authors


  • Associate Editor: McDonald

Abstract

Aerial surveys using line-intercept methods are one approach to estimate the extent of prairie dog colonies in a large geographic area. Although black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) construct conspicuous mounds at burrow openings, aerial observers have difficulty discriminating between areas with burrows occupied by prairie dogs (colonies) versus areas of uninhabited burrows (uninhabited colony sites). Consequently, aerial line-intercept surveys may overestimate prairie dog colony extent unless adjusted by an on-the-ground inspection of a sample of intercepts. We compared aerial line-intercept surveys conducted over 2 National Grasslands in Colorado, USA, with independent ground-mapping of known black-tailed prairie dog colonies. Aerial line-intercepts adjusted by ground surveys using a single activity category adjustment overestimated colonies by ≥94% on the Comanche National Grassland and ≥58% on the Pawnee National Grassland. We present a ground-survey technique that involves 1) visiting on the ground a subset of aerial intercepts classified as occupied colonies plus a subset of intercepts classified as uninhabited colony sites, and 2) based on these ground observations, recording the proportion of each aerial intercept that intersects a colony and the proportion that intersects an uninhabited colony site. Where line-intercept techniques are applied to aerial surveys or remotely sensed imagery, this method can provide more accurate estimates of black-tailed prairie dog abundance and trends. Published 2012. This article is a U.S. Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

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