Black-tailed prairie dogs are herbivorous rodents known to have large effects on grassland landscapes in North America. They have considerable impacts on prairie plant communities as the result of repeated clipping of vegetation that can reduce preferred forage species and may indirectly result in increased abundance of disturbance-tolerant species. We investigated plant communities within three different habitat types: Active and inactive prairie dog colonies, and adjacent suitable, but unoccupied, control areas in the Northern Great Plains of Montana, U.S.A. Plant species richness did not vary markedly between the three habitat types. However, plant composition measured as cover of plant life forms (forbs, shrubs, and graminoids), which was further divided into native status (native or introduced), and plant species indicators (plant species associated with a specific habitat) did vary distinctly between the three habitat types. Differences in plant composition between the habitat types suggests black-tailed prairie dog activities result in greater diversity of plant microhabitats at a landscape scale, and prairie dogs are an important component of the overall ecosystem in the Northern Great Plains of North America.
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Vol. 181 • No. 2