Black-tailed prairie dogs, Cynomys ludovicianus, now inhabit a small fraction of their original range in the Great Plains. We monitored a population of black-tailed prairie dogs at Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska, from colonization in 1981 until 2009 (28 years). Colony boundaries were mapped by delineating clip lines and active burrows; population densities were estimated via visual counts. Estimates of total population size revealed 4 distinct periods of changing dynamics: (1) a linear increase, (2) a decline and prolonged depression, (3) an exponential increase, and (4) a period of high variability. Area occupied revealed similar, although less-defined trends, whereas densities fluctuated greatly (8–80 individuals • ha-1). Even after almost 30 years, this population remains relatively small. Decreases in the population may have been due, in part, to predation by badgers, although sylvatic plague cannot be ruled out. Black-tailed prairie dogs are recognized as keystone grassland species, and attempts are underway to reintroduce them to parts of their historic range. Our data suggest that black-tailed prairie dogs possess high potential for rapid population growth and decline, regardless of colony size. Therefore, either human-assisted or natural dispersal events may be important in establishing colonies in suitable habitat.
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Vol. 71 • No. 1