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Soil Change Induced by Prairie Dogs across Three Ecological Sites

C. J. Barth, M. A. Liebig, J. R. Hendrickson, K. K. Sedivec, G. Halvorson
Soil Science Society of America journal 2014 v.78 no.6 pp. 2054-2060
Cynomys, ecosystem engineering, infiltration rate, landscapes, rangelands, soil depth, soil heterogeneity, soil organic carbon, soil types, vegetation, wildlife management, South Dakota
Prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) can influence vegetation dynamics and landscape hydrology by altering soil properties, yet few studies have evaluated soil responses to prairie dog activities across a range of soil types. This study was conducted to quantify prairie dog effects on soil properties within three unique ecological sites differing in soil and landscape attributes on a 1400 ha ranch near McLaughlin, SD. Soil properties and infiltration rate were evaluated within thin claypan, loamy, and shallow loamy ecological sites corresponding to footslope, backslope, and summit–shoulder landscape positions, respectively. Prairie dog activity was found to influence soil properties similarly across ecological sites. Prairie dog activity contributed to considerable soil heterogeneity, with on-mound areas characterized as acidified, nutrient “hot spots” compared with off-mound areas. On-mound areas possessed faster infiltration rates than off-mound areas within loamy and shallow loamy ecological sites. Soil organic C was greater in on-mound areas compared with off-mound areas, but only at intermediate depths (10 to 30 cm). Results from this study suggest postextirpation restoration efforts should consider soil heterogeneity induced by prairie dog activity within and across ecological sites.