Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Department / School

Natural Resource Management

First Advisor

Patricia S. Johnson


Ecological Site Descriptions, Loamy Ecological Sites, Mixed-grass prairie, Prairie dogs, seral state, State-and-Transition models


Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are native burrowing rodents that occupy large areas in the shortgrass and mixed-grass prairies of the Northern Great Plains. They are an important component of these prairie systems due to their impacts on plant communities. Currently State-and-Transition models (STMs) for grassland Ecological Site Descriptions (ESDs) address grazing by livestock as a major factor affecting states and phases within states. Impacts from other grazers, such as prairie dogs, are either not addressed directly, or are included only in a transition to a generalized early seral state. There are, however, dramatic differences in plant communities within prairie dog towns associated with time of prairie dog occupancy as well as other biotic and abiotic factors. These differences are not captured by current STMs. For managers who are tasked with managing prairies occupied by prairie dogs, current STMs do not provide the needed conceptual framework for understanding spatial variation and temporal changes to grassland vegetation affected by prairie dogs, nor do they provide information on management practices and strategies needed to manage these lands effectively. This study was conducted in Custer State Park in southwestern South Dakota. The goal was to develop a state-and-transition model for prairie dog towns on the Loamy Ecological Site (ES) in Major Land Use Area (MLRA 62). Cover data of plant species was collected on and off of prairie dog towns in 2014 and 2015. These data were used to identify 5 distinct vegetation states associated with prairie dog colonies using a combination of Nonmetric Multidimensional Scaling (NMS) Ordination and Cluster analysis. The 5 states are: State 2, Native Invaded; State 3, Kentucky Bluegrass Dominated; State 4, Shortgrass Sod; State 5, Early Seral; and State 6, Fringed Sage Dominated. These 5 states are influenced by the interactions of fire, grazing by prairie dogs and large ungulates, presence of invasive plant species, and climatic factors (e.g. wet/dry cycles and temperature), all of which were used to describe transition pathways between states and community pathways within states. The resulting prairie dog stateand- transition model allows managers to determine the status and health of plant communities on prairie dog towns on the Loamy ES in MLRA 62. It will also help land managers understand vegetation variations across colonies, identify early warning signs that an undesirable transition is likely to occur, and provide potential restoration options that might be able to return a site to a more desirable plant community for management purposes.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Black-tailed prairie dog -- Ecology -- South Dakota -- Custer State Park.
Prairie dogs -- Ecology -- South Dakota -- Custer State Park.
Plant communities -- South Dakota -- Custer State Park.
Grasslands -- South Dakota -- Custer State Park -- Environmental conditions.
Prairie ecology.


Includes bibliographical references



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University


The raw data files accompanying this thesis can be downloaded as a zip file.
Size: 25 MB

Hendrix Prairie Dog Thesis (25623 kB)
Prairie Dog Data Files



Rights Statement

In Copyright