Ms. Stephanie Baker, University of New Mexico


The Gunnison's Prairie Dog (GPD, Cynomys gunnisoni) is an herbivorous, burrowing rodent that was extirpated from the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in the 1930's by ranchers to make land available for grazing livestock. Currently, the GPD is the subject of a long-term reintroduction experiment overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The burrowing and feeding habits of the GPD influences an ecosystem's biotic and abiotic factors significantly, making this species a keystone ecosystem engineer that plays a vital role creating heterogeneous mosaics of habitat. Their presence is correlated with diverse biological communities and maintenance of grassland ecosystems. To better understand the impact of GPDs on small mammal population and diversity, we compared control sites to prairie dog reintroduction sites using a mark-recapture methodology with live trapping of animals on all plots. After placing Sherman traps on all sites over a four-week period, we compared data from previous trapping seasons to measure the long-term effects of the reintroduction on small mammal populations. We hypothesized that sites with reintroduced prairie dogs would have a higher diversity and abundance of small mammals compared to that of the control sites. Our results demonstrate that diversity and abundance is higher overall in treatment plots than in controls over multiple trapping seasons, confirming the importance of a keystone species in an ecosystem.

About the Author

Melissa graduated in December 2015 with a major in Environmental Studies and minor in Biology. The majority of her undergraduate career involved different research projects that enriched her college experience. She hopes to continue being involved in environmental research and plans to pursue a master's degree in the future. She finds the greatest enjoyment in being outdoors, and is continuously expanding her knowledge about the topics she is most passionate about.

Included in

Zoology Commons



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.