Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


The black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) is a colonial and fossorial rodent species that serves as an ecosystem engineer and keystone species in North America’s grasslands. Black-tailed prairie dogs historically ranged from northern Mexico to southern Canada, and from eastern Nebraska to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. However, with the loss and fragmentation of grasslands, introduction of Sylvatic plague (Yersinia pestis), and control measures such as poisoning and shooting, black-tailed prairie dogs are limited to less than 5 percent of their historical range.

In this study, I examined how colony area, location, isolation, and surrounding land cover affected the persistence of black-tailed prairie dog colonies in northwest Kansas from 2005-2015. Using aerial imagery from the National Agricultural Imagery Program (NAIP), I attempted to map every black-tailed prairie dog colony in northwest Kansas from 2005-2015. I used generalized linear models and Akaike’s information criterion (AIC) to determine which factors influenced colony persistence.

I found that the number of black-tailed prairie dog colonies and total area occupied by colonies varied from 2005-2015, with both experiencing a sharp decline from 2014-2015. While the number of colony extinctions per year also varied, the number of new colonies established steadily decreased over the study period. The logarithmic transformation of colony area was the most important variable to colony persistence, occurring in all of the best 25 models. The longitude of the colony was the second most important factor, occurring in 24 of the best 25 models. Determining which factors have the greatest impact on black-tailed prairie dog colony persistence is crucial for the development of conservation management plans for this declining species.


Dr. Robert Channell

Date of Award

Fall 2020

Document Type



© The Author(s)


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