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University of Alberta (2009)

Black-tailed prairie dog declines in northwestern Mexico : species-habitat relationships in a changing landscape

Avila-Flores, Rafael

Titre : Black-tailed prairie dog declines in northwestern Mexico : species-habitat relationships in a changing landscape

Auteur : Avila-Flores, Rafael

Université de soutenance : University of Alberta Canada

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 2009

Résumé
One of the three largest systems of black-tailed prairie dog (BTPD) colonies is located in northwestern Chihuahua, Mexico. During the last two decades, the area occupied by these colonies has been highly reduced and fragmented. Previous studies suggested that agriculture, poisoning, cattle overgrazing and shrub encroachment could be the factors responsible for such declines. However, the severe drought occurring in the region between 1994 and 2004 has not been considered in this equation. Because these populations occur in arid regions at the southern edge of the species range, they could be especially sensitive to changes in plant productivity. Furthermore, fragmentation of colonies may accelerate population declines due to size and isolation effects. In this study, I analyzed species-habitat relationships at different spatial and temporal scales to understand the causes of recent declines of BTPDs in northwestern Chihuahua. The most severe loss of colony area and most local extinctions occurred between 1988 and 2000, but most likely before 1997. Extinction of colonies before 2000 mostly occurred at small and isolated colonies in low-productivity areas. The coincidence of greatest area decline with the occurrence of most intense drought suggests a prominent role of drought in the population collapse. Overall, patterns of BTPD occurrence and abundance in Chihuahua are greatly influenced by spatial and temporal variation in forage cover. Although BTPDs were more likely to occur in open areas with short vegetation, increased forage cover positively predicted occurrence. High levels of forage cover during the dry season were positively related with BTPD density, juvenile production and population rate of change, but forage cover during the preceding rainy season was a negative predictor of demographic indices. High plant productivity during humid periods seems to have negative impacts on BTPD populations, presumably because the rapid plant growth reduces visibility and predator detection by BTPDs. The most influential landscape variable was the effective isolation of colonies. Although increased isolation may reduce the probability of occurrence at a given site, highly isolated locations may support high population densities. Contrary to my original predictions, I did not detect significant impacts of human-related factors on BTPD distribution and abundance.

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