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Black-tailed prairie dog mounds: do they contribute to plant species diversity and nitrogen cycling?




Detling, J. K., author
Farrar, J. P., author
SGS-LTER, Colorado State University, publisher

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Soil mounds around burrows are natural disturbances in plant communities where prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) occur. We hypothesized that one or more sub-dominant plant species are more abundant on black-tailed prairie dog (C. ludovicianus) mounds than on inter-mound areas or off-prairie-dog-town areas, and that soil mixing results in enhanced N-mineralization which increases N-content of plants growing on mounds. During summer 2000, we measured plant cover and biomass by species in on-mound, inter-mound, and off-town plots on three active prairie dog towns in each Texas, Colorado, and Montana. In Montana and Colorado, Solanum triflorum was found only on mounds, and Sphaeralcea coccinea was more frequent on prairie dog mounds than on inter-mound and off-town areas. In Texas, Achillea millefolium and Amaranthus blitoides was found only on prairie dog mounds, and Hoffmanseggia glauca was more frequent on mounds than on inter-mound and off-town areas. Biomass of grasses increased from on-mound to off-town sites while biomass of most forbs decreased. Plant nitrogen concentration showed a general decline from mounds to off-town areas. These findings support the hypothesis that soil disturbance caused by C. ludovicianus during construction and maintenance of their mounds contributes to plant species diversity and enhanced N-mineralization in grasslands.


The SGS-LTER research site was established in 1980 by researchers at Colorado State University as part of a network of long-term research sites within the US LTER Network, supported by the National Science Foundation. Scientists within the Natural Resource Ecology Lab, Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship, Department of Soil and Crop Sciences, and Biology Department at CSU, California State Fullerton, USDA Agricultural Research Service, University of Northern Colorado, and the University of Wyoming, among others, have contributed to our understanding of the structure and functions of the shortgrass steppe and other diverse ecosystems across the network while maintaining a common mission and sharing expertise, data and infrastructure.
Colorado State University. Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory; Colorado State University. Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship; Colorado State University. Department of Soil and Crop Sciences; Colorado State University. Department of Biology; California State University, Fullerton; United States. Agricultural Research Service; University of Northern Colorado.

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long term ecological research
grassland ecology
shortgrass steppe
Central Plains Experimental Range
Pawnee National Grassland


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