Study details impact of prairie dog plague die-off on other species

This study, conducted from 2015-19 in the Thunder Basin National Grassland, may be the first to specifically examine the multispecies impacts of a wide-scale plague outbreak, which reduced the area covered by prairie dog colonies from nearly 25,000 acres to only about 125 acres in the study area. The 2017 outbreak was followed by abnormally high precipitation in 2018, which caused vegetation to grow quickly and taller without the presence of prairie dogs. The researchers found that the mountain plover, birds that thrive when vegetation is kept shorter by prairie dogs, almost disappeared from the study area, while migrant songbirds such as the lark bunting, which prefer taller vegetation, increased in number. Meanwhile, species including ferruginous hawks, badgers and swift foxes declined dramatically as their prey base crashed.