Home-range size and spatial organization of black-footed ferrets Mustela nigripes in South Dakota, USA

David S. Jachowski, Joshua J. Millspaugh, Dean E. Biggins, Travis M. Livieri, Marc R. Matchett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Effective conservation planning for endangered species depends on an understanding of space use patterns. Black-footed ferrets Mustela nigripes depend on prairie dogs Cynomys sp. as prey and use their burrow systems for shelter. The availability of areas with high densities of active prairie dog burrows is the major factor thought to affect their selection of sites and resources. However, we have little knowledge about how the spatial distribution of active prairie dog burrows might influence the spatial organization and home-range size of ferrets. We monitored the movements of black-footed ferrets on a black-tailed prairie dog C. ludovicianus colony in South Dakota to document ferret space use patterns. Home ranges of female ferrets were 22.9 - 95.6 ha in size (x̄ = 56.3 ha, SE = 19.7, N = 6), while male ferret home ranges were on average more than twice as large as those of females (x̄ = 128.3 ha, SE = 68.5, N = 3). The home-range size of female ferrets was correlated with mean active prairie dog burrow utilization distribution (UD) value within ferret home ranges, where home-range size decreased as active prairie dog burrow UD value increased (r2 = 0.974, P < 0.001, N = 6). Ferret space use overlapped more extensively than previously reported, with up to 43 UD overlap between a ferret and the nearest adjacent ferret of the same sex. Areas of overlap tended to have higher active prairie dog burrow UD values, suggesting that the spatial distribution of active prairie dog burrows influenced both home-range size and the amount of space use overlap between ferrets. These findings emphasize the potential influence of resource distribution on carnivore sociobiology and the importance of considering that distribution in assessing habitat for the reintroduction of specialized species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66-76
Number of pages11
JournalWildlife Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • Black-footed ferret
  • Black-tailed prairie dog
  • Conata Basin
  • Home range
  • Mustela nigripes
  • Space use
  • Utilization distribution
  • Volume of intersection


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