Registered users receive a variety of benefits including the ability to customize email alerts, create favorite journals list, and save searches.
Please note that a BioOne web account does not automatically grant access to full-text content. An institutional or society member subscription is required to view non-Open Access content.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Once feared to be extinct, black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) were rediscovered near Meeteetse, Wyoming, in 1981, resulting in renewed conservation and research efforts for this highly endangered species. A need for information directly useful to recovery has motivated much monitoring of ferrets since that time, but field activities have enabled collection of data relevant to broader biological themes. This special feature is placed in a context of similar books and proceedings devoted to ferret biology and conservation. Articles include general observations on ferrets, modeling of potential impacts of ferrets on prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.), discussions on relationships of ferrets to prairie dog habitats at several spatial scales (from individual burrows to patches of burrow systems) and a general treatise on the status of black-footed ferret recovery.
Multi-opening burrow systems constructed by prairie dogs (Cynomys) ostensibly provide escape routes when prairie dogs are pursued by predators capable of entering the burrows, such as black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes), or by predators that can rapidly dig into the tunnels, such as American badgers (Taxidea taxus). Because badgers also prey on ferrets, ferrets might similarly benefit from multi-opening burrow systems. Using an air blower, white-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys leucurus) burrow openings were tested for connectivity on plots occupied by black-footed ferrets and on randomly selected plots in Wyoming. Significantly more connected openings were found on ferret-occupied plots than on random plots. Connected openings might be due to modifications by ferrets in response to plugging by prairie dogs, due to selection by ferrets for complex systems with multiple openings that are already unobstructed, or simply due to ferrets lingering at kill sites that were multi-opening systems selected by their prairie dog prey.
Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) excavate soil from prairie dog (Cynomys spp.) burrows, thereby creating characteristic soil deposits at burrow openings. These soil deposits have been observed only rarely in summer. We monitored adult ferrets during June–October of the years 2007 and 2008 on a 452-ha colony of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) in the Conata Basin, South Dakota. We located and identified ferret excavations during nighttime spotlight surveys for ferrets and daytime sampling of prairie dog burrow openings around locations where ferrets were located via spotlight. We accumulated 48 observations of in-process or recently completed ferret excavations during spotlight surveys (21 in 2007, 27 in 2008) and located 51 diggings during daytime burrow sampling (25 in 2007, 26 in 2008). We located diggings during 5.5% of spotlight observations, most frequently in July–August. These results collectively suggest ferrets may frequently excavate soil in summer, because prairie dogs frequently use soil to plug burrow openings and tunnels in defense against ferrets. Prairie dogs might frequently destroy soil deposits left by ferrets during summer, thereby reducing detection of diggings by biologists.
Intensive radio-tracking during August–December enabled us to collect detailed information on digging behaviors of a small sample of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) occupying colonies of white-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys leucurus). A sample of 33 prairie dogs, also radio-tagged, progressively ceased aboveground activity during late summer and fall, presumably as they descended into burrows to hibernate. Most of the time ferrets spent digging was in November–December when >95% of the radio-tagged prairie dogs were inactive, suggesting that digging was primarily to excavate hibernating prey. Although 43.9% of the burrow openings were estimated to be in large mounds, which are common on colonies of white-tailed prairie dogs, all of a sample of 17 deposits of soil (diggings) made by ferrets were excavated at small mounds or nonmounded openings. The average duration of 23 nocturnal sessions of digging by ferrets was 112.2 minutes. A digging session consisted of multiple bouts of soil movement typically lasting about 5 min, and sessions were separated by pauses above- or belowground lasting several minutes. Bouts of moving soil from a burrow involved round-trips of 12.5–30.3 s to remove an average of 35 cm3 of soil per trip. These digging bouts are energetically costly for ferrets. One female moved 16.8 kg of soil an estimated 3.3 m during bouts having a cumulative duration of 178 minutes, removing a soil plug estimated to be 178 cm long. Increasing evidence suggests that some behaviors of ferrets and prairie dogs are coevolutionary responses between this highly specialized predator and its prairie dog prey.
Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) plug burrows occupied by black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes), and they also plug burrows to entomb dead prairie dogs. We further evaluated these phenomena by sampling connectivity and plugging of burrow openings on prairie dog colonies occupied by ferrets, colonies where recreational shooting was allowed, and colonies with neither shooting nor ferrets. We counted burrow openings on line surveys and within plots, classified surface plugging, and used an air blower to examine subsurface connectivity. Colonies with ferrets had lower densities of openings, fewer connected openings (suggesting increased subsurface plugging), and more surface plugs compared to colonies with no known ferrets. Colonies with recreational shooting had the lowest densities of burrow openings, and line-survey data suggested colonies with shooting had intermediate rates of surface plugging. The extent of surface and subsurface plugging could have consequences for the prairie dog community by changing air circulation and escape routes of burrow systems and by altering energetic relationships. Burrow plugging might reduce prairie dogs' risk of predation by ferrets while increasing risk of predation by American badgers (Taxidea taxus); however, the complexity of the trade-off is increased if plugging increases the risk of predation on ferrets by badgers. Prairie dogs expend more energy plugging and digging when ferrets or shooting are present, and ferrets increase their energy expenditures when they dig to remove those plugs. Microclimatic differences in plugged burrow systems may play a role in flea ecology and persistence of the flea-borne bacterium that causes plague (Yersinia pestis).
Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) can surface-plug openings to a burrow occupied by a black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes). At a coarse scale, surface plugs are more common in colonies of prairie dogs occupied by ferrets than in colonies without ferrets. However, little is known about spatial and temporal patterns of surface plugging in a colony occupied by ferrets. In a 452-ha colony of black-tailed prairie dogs in South Dakota, we sampled burrow openings for surface plugs and related those data to locations of ferrets observed during spotlight surveys. Of 67,574 burrow openings in the colony between June and September 2007, 3.7% were plugged. In a colony-wide grid of 80 m × 80 m cells, the occurrence of surface plugging (≥1 opening plugged) was greater in cells used by ferrets (93.3% of cells) than in cells not observably used by ferrets (70.6%). Rates of surface plugging (percentages of openings plugged) were significantly higher in cells used by ferrets (median = 3.7%) than in cells without known ferret use (median = 3.2%). Also, numbers of ferret locations in cells correlated positively with numbers of mapped surface plugs in the cells. To investigate surface plugging at finer temporal and spatial scales, we compared rates of surface plugging in 20-m-radius circle-plots centered on ferret locations and in random plots 1–4 days after observing a ferret (Jun–Oct 2007 and 2008). Rates of surface plugging were greater in ferret-plots (median = 12.0%) than in random plots (median = 0%). For prairie dogs and their associates, the implications of surface plugging could be numerous. For instance, ferrets must dig to exit or enter plugged burrows (suggesting energetic costs), and surface plugs might influence microclimates in burrows and consequently influence species that cannot excavate soil (e.g., fleas that transmit the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis).
Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) spend most daylight hours underground in prairie dog (Cynomys) burrows and exhibit aboveground movements primarily at night. Moonlight can influence the activity patterns of ferrets and, consequently, might influence the efficiency of spotlight surveys used by biologists to monitor ferret populations. We related detection of adult ferrets during postbreeding spotlight surveys to lunar and temporal conditions. We most frequently located ferrets during surveys in which the moon breached the horizon. The data suggested intersexual differences in response to moonlight. We located male ferrets most frequently during nights with greater moon illumination, but we did not detect a correlation between moon illumination and spotlight detection of female ferrets. In general, moonlight could facilitate aboveground navigation by ferrets. However, it seems activity under bright moonlight could be costly for female ferrets while they raise young. Detection of ferrets also varied among months. We detected female ferrets most frequently in August–September, when mothers increase hunting efforts to acquire prey for growing offspring (kits). Detection of adult female ferrets declined in October, when kits were likely independent of their mother. We located male ferrets most frequently in September–October, when males might increase activity to monitor female ferrets and male competitors. Consideration of lunar and temporal influences and standardization of postbreeding surveys could enhance site-specific assessment of reintroduction success and across-site assessment of species recoveiy progress. We suggest that postbreeding surveys for ferrets should be enhanced by concentrating efforts in August–September during moonlit nights when the moon is above the horizon.
During 2007–2009 in the Conata Basin, South Dakota, field studies provided opportunities to accumulate incidental observations of wild-born black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) and their interactions with other species. Here, I describe maternal behaviors by female ferrets; interactions between a female ferret and a rattlesnake (Crotalus viridis viridis); and attacks by ferrets on a horned lark (Eremophila alpestris), a deer mouse (Peromyscus sp.), and a cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus sp.). Additionally, I present hypotheses for future testing and discuss conservation implications.
We estimated annual home ranges and core areas of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) in Conata Basin, South Dakota, by collecting 834 locations of 28 ferrets (20 females, 8 males) through spotlighting from October 1997 to September 2000. Area-per-observation curves showed that a minimum of 23 locations were needed to estimate fixed-kernel home-range size. Mean 95% and 50% fixed-kernel annual home-range sizes of females (95%: 64.7 ha, SE = 11.6; 50%: 12.7 ha, SE = 3.0) were significantly smaller and less variable than those of males (95%: 131.8 ha, SE = 40.3; 50%: 35.6 ha, SE = 16.5). Minimum convex polygon home-range estimates also differed between females (41.9 ha, SE = 6.5 ha) and males (86.3 ha, SE = 21.3). Females' ranges were consistently less variable than males' ranges, regardless of the home-range estimator used. Female home-range size was negatively related to male density (r2 = 0.433), and male home-range size was positively associated with age (r2 = 0.671). Intersexual overlap and intrasexual exclusivity of home ranges was evident, suggesting that ferrets conform to a typical mustelid spacing pattern. Core use areas (50% fixed-kernel ranges) had significantly higher black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) densities than 95% areas (t = 5.17, P = 0.014), suggesting that core areas are located in areas of higher prairie dog densities. Relative to other mustelids, black-footed ferrets have considerably smaller home ranges.
Wildlife-habitat relationships are often conceptualized as resource selection functions (RSFs)—models increasingly used to estimate species distributions and prioritize habitat conservation. We evaluated the predictive capabilities of 2 black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) RSFs developed on a 452-ha colony of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) in the Conata Basin, South Dakota. We used the RSFs to project the relative probability of occurrence of ferrets throughout an adjacent 227-ha colony. We evaluated performance of the RSFs using ferret space use data collected via postbreeding spotlight surveys June–October 2005–2006. In home ranges and core areas, ferrets selected the predicted “very high” and “high” occurrence categories of both RSFs. Count metrics also suggested selection of these categories; for each model in each year, approximately 81% of ferret locations occurred in areas of very high or high predicted occurrence. These results suggest usefulness of the RSFs in estimating the distribution of ferrets throughout a black-tailed prairie dog colony. The RSFs provide a fine-scale habitat assessment for ferrets that can be used to prioritize releases of ferrets and habitat restoration for prairie dogs and ferrets. A method to quickly inventory the distribution of prairie dog burrow openings would greatly facilitate application of the RSFs.
Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) are among the most endangered animals in North America. Reintroductions of captive-born ferrets onto prairie dog (Cynomys spp.) colonies are crucial to the conservation of the species. In September 2007, captive-born ferrets were released on a black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colony at the Vermejo Park Ranch, New Mexico. Ferret kits experimentally released in areas of comparatively low and high prairie dog burrow densities were located via spotlight surveys. Some maturing ferret kits were subsequently translocated to areas of low and high burrow densities on nearby prairie dog colonies. For 2 months, fine-scale habitat use was quantified by mapping all burrow openings within a 30-m radius of each ferret location. Spatial statistics accounted for autocorrelation in the burrow densities in areas used by ferrets. It was hypothesized that ferrets would select areas of high burrow densities within colonies; however, burrow densities in areas used by ferrets were generally similar to the available burrow densities. Because ferrets used areas with burrow densities similar to densities available at the colony level and because of the potential energetic benefits for ferrets using areas with high burrow densities, releasing ferrets on colonies with high burrow densities might increase reintroduction success.
The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) recovery program is an example of single-species management to preserve flora and fauna. We argue that conservationists must move beyond that approach for success. In 1988, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a down-listing goal of 1500 adult black-footed ferrets in 10 wild populations by 2010. The recovery program has only reached 23% of that goal. The overriding reason is the lack of regulatory mechanisms for poisoning and shooting prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) and our inability to control occurrence of plague (Yersinia pestis) in prairie dogs. We propose that prairie dogs need, and deserve, some level of federal protection to address these factors and that the primary goal for conservation of black-footed ferrets should be maintaining numbers and distributions of prairie dogs at sufficient temporal and geographic scales to restore them to a level of ecological function in the grasslands. We contend that prairie dogs qualify for protection in at least 4 of the 5 categories used to assess level of threat under the Endangered Species Act. A species needs to qualify in one of those categories to merit protection. The threat posed by plague should itself be sufficient reason to justify prairie dog protection, both for themselves and for the black-footed ferret recovery program.
Purshia spp. (Rosaceae) comprise a widespread western North American species complex that is important as landscape dominants, wildlife habitat, browse for wild and domestic ungulates, and seed reserves for small mammals. This study examined aspects of the phenology, compatibility, pollination biology, and progeny fruit characteristics of multiple accessions of bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), as well as a putative hybrid between bitterbrush and Purshia stansburiana. Except for open- and wind-pollination treatments, mass pollination was accomplished at anthesis within white paper sacks, which were used to isolate treatment branches. Bitterbrush appears to be largely self-incompatible and requires some agent, either wind or animal, to effect pollination. While the majority of pollination of bitterbrush flowers is undoubtedly accomplished by insects, some pollination by wind is possible (ambophily) when shrubs are closely spaced, as flowering is fairly synchronous. Flower duration varied among shrubs, but generally lasted from 12 to 24 hours, depending on weather conditions. Flower development stage had little effect on fruit set, indicating prolonged stigma receptivity. Populations of bitterbrush exhibit considerable interfertility, as well as substantial hybridization with congeners. Intrapopulation crosses were only slightly more successful than interpopulation crosses. One of the populations analyzed exhibits characteristics consistent with its putative hybrid nature, having more than one pistil per receptacle, smaller but longer fruits, and a greater reliance on insects for pollination. Both maternal and paternal effects are important in fruit development. Taxonomic relationships within the complex are discussed.
On the basis of reports in the literature, incidence of dystocia in wild elk (Cervus elaphus) across the west is rare. In 2011, one of 34 (3%) pregnant cow elk in our study experienced dystocia during birth. Our visual observations indicated that it took approximately 4 days for a radio-collared cow elk to succumb to dystocia in our study. Little is known about dystocia in wild elk populations, and our observation provides some insight about fetal malpresentations.
The eastern woodrat (Neotoma floridana) occurs in eastern and central parts of the United States, with 3 subspecies inhabiting Nebraska. Herein, we report on distributional records of N. f. baileyi—an isolated, disjunct subspecies in north-central Nebraska. We searched for diagnostic sign of woodrats in 4 counties in Nebraska and 1 county in South Dakota. We obtained distributional records for N. f. baileyi east, west, and north of known distribution limits in Nebraska, but none in South Dakota. Most distributional records represent range extensions because of lack of prior mammalian surveys in those areas. Observations of woodrats in isolated, human-established woodlots surrounded by prairies represent range expansions because such habitats were not present in the past.
The meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius luteus) is a riparian obligate with a fragmented distribution in the American Southwest. Because of recent rapid declines in populations, it is a candidate for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. In Arizona, its known distribution has been restricted to the White Mountains region in the east central part of the state. I present evidence for an historical occurrence of jumping mice in the Verde River watershed, Yavapai County, in west central Arizona. Evidence includes record of a specimen collected by Edgar Mearns in the 1880s, a 1944 report of parasites collected from jumping mice in Yavapai County, and a phylogeographic history that is consistent with an occurrence in the region, including an ecological niche model that predicted suitable conditions for Z. h. luteus in the upper Verde River watershed during the last glacial maximum. Field surveys should be conducted to determine if Z. h. luteus currently exists within the Verde River watershed.