Rates of vegetation change associated with prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) grazing in North American mixed-grass prairie

Steve Archer, M. G. Garrett, James K. Detling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Scopus citations


A prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colony with a known history of habitation was studied to quantify the effects of herbivory on plant species composition, dominance, stature and diversity in a North American mixedgrass prairie. Gradient analysis was used to quantify the relationship between plant community structure, prairie dog density, burrow density and habitation history and to document community-level responses of plants subjected to heavy grazing pressure. The results quantify the type, rate and extent of change which plant populations and communities may undergo in response to the differential grazing of plants variously tolerant of defoliation. Detrended correspondence analysis indicated that 69% of the between-sample floristic variance on the site was attributable to prairie dog habitation. Perennial grasses were rapidly displaced from the site within 3 yr of colonization and were replaced by annual forbs. The net result was an increase in species richness and diversity on the prairie dog colony. Within the colony, however, the number of species was more a function of stand size than colonization history. Significant decreases in canopy stature after 2 yr of habitation resulted from replacement of mid-height grass species by shortgrass species and forbs. In addition, there was a shift from tall growth forms of off-colony species to dwarf growth forms of the same species on the colony. Decreases in litter and increases in bare soil cover were substantial during the first 2 yr of habitation but changed little thereafter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)159-166
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1987


  • Agropyron
  • Bouteloua
  • Buchlöe
  • Detrended correspondence analysis
  • Diversity
  • Ecotype
  • Herbivory
  • Stipa
  • Structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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