Date of Award:

12-2012

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Wildland Resources

Advisor/Chair:

S. Nicole Frey

Abstract

Utah prairie dogs (Cynomys parvidens) have been extirpated in 90% of their historical range. Because most of the population occurs on private land, this threatened species is continually in conflict with landowners. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has been relocating prairie dogs from private to public land since the 1970s, but relocations have been largely unsuccessful due to high mortality. Prairie dogs are highly social animals, but they are usually relocated without regard to their family group (coterie). I hypothesized that relocating Utah prairie dogs with their social structure intact may positively affect their survival rates and behavior. Utah prairie dogs were relocated from the golf course in Cedar City, Utah to two prepared sites near Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah in 2010 and 2011. Trapped animals were individually marked, and released at the new sites. Prairie dogs were relocated as coteries, or in a control group as randomly trapped individuals. To compare the two sites, vegetation transects were established at each site to document differences in composition and structure. Two months after relocation, traps were set to recapture released animals. Activity budgets were collected prior to, and following, relocation. Activity data were also collected on wild prairie dog populations for comparison. The best predictor of survival and recapture rate was the animal’s weight at initial capture. Larger animals had higher survival, but lower recapture rates. More research is needed to determine if this is due to better body condition, older animals having more experience, or both. Analysis showed no evidence of an advantage to relocating Utah prairie dogs by coteries. There was no benefit to survival, and no difference in behavior between coterie and control relocation strategies. Relocated animals behaved differently from non-relocated prairie dogs. While still significantly different, relocated individuals behaved more like wild prairie dogs than the animals at the urban source population. The vegetation at the two sites was significantly different. One site had significantly less grass cover, more invasive plant cover, and rockier soils. The sites also had different soil structures, which affect burrowing, and long-term retention rates. More research is needed to determine how site selection influences long-term success of a relocation site.

Comments

This work made publicly available electronically on December 21, 2012.

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