Get access

Prairie dog towns as islands: applications of island biogeography and landscape ecology for conserving nonvolant terrestrial vertebrates


* Corresponding author. † Current address: Department of Biological Sciences, Emporia State University, Campus Box 4050, Emporia, KS 66801, U.S.A.


Aim To evaluate the utility of island biogeography theory as a model for understanding and conserving native communities of nonvolant terrestrial vertebrates at prairie dog towns.

Location Oklahoma Panhandle, USA.

Methods We surveyed mammal, reptile and amphibian communities on 36 black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) towns during the summers and falls of 1997 to 1999. We used a Geographic Information System (GIS) to characterize the landscape within 10 km of each town. We used Principal Components Analysis (PCA), Correlation Analysis, and Linear Regression to test for patterns in species richness relative to area and isolation of towns, local habitat characteristics, and characteristics of the adjacent landscape.

Results Species richness was not significantly correlated with town size, town isolation, or local habitat characteristics. On the other hand, species richness was significantly correlated with characteristics of the landscape within 10 km of the focal town. In addition, species richness of mammals at prairie dog towns during the summer increased in a northerly direction, while richness of mammals at towns during fall increased to the west.

Main conclusions These results, albeit contrary to traditional island biogeography theory, are consistent with an emerging view that communities on relatively small islands are strongly influenced by characteristics of the adjacent landscape (or seascape). We recommend that to the extent possible, networks of reserves for prairie dogs and their associated species should include clusters of large towns (i.e. larger than those studied here), as well as large but isolated towns, and that conservation efforts should include management of the intervening matrix of anthropogenic habitats.