Response of mountain plovers to plague-driven dynamics of black-tailed prairie dog colonies

David J. Augustine, Stephen J. Dinsmore, Michael B. Wunder, Victoria J. Dreitz, Fritz L. Knopf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Sylvatic plague is a major factor influencing the dynamics of black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colonies in the western Great Plains. We studied the nesting response of the mountain plover (Charadrius montanus), a grassland bird that nests on prairie dog colonies, to plague-driven dynamics of prairie dog colonies at three sites in the western Great Plains. First, we examined plover nest distribution on colonies that were previously affected by plague, but that had been recovering (expanding) for at least 6 years. Plovers consistently nested in both young (colonized in the past 1-2 years) and old (colonized for 6 or more years) portions of prairie dog colonies in proportion to their availability. Second, we examined changes in plover nest frequency at two sites following plague epizootics, and found that mountain plover nest numbers declined relatively rapidly (≤2 years) on plague-affected colonies. Taken together, our findings indicate that available plover nesting habitat associated with prairie dog colonies closely tracks the area actively occupied by prairie dogs each year. Given the presence of plague throughout most of the mountain plover's breeding range in the western Great Plains, important factors affecting plover populations likely include landscape features that determine the scale of plague outbreaks, the distance that plovers move in response to changing breeding habitat conditions, and the availability and quality of alternate breeding habitat within the landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)689-697
Number of pages9
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 2008


  • Charadrius montanus
  • Cynomys ludovicianus
  • Disturbance processes
  • Grazing
  • Great Plains
  • Mixed prairie
  • Semi-arid rangeland
  • Shortgrass steppe
  • Yersinia pestis


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