US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Mammalogy, 82(4):928-936, 2001.


During 1997-1998, we undertook an aerial survey, with an aerial line-intercept technique, to estimate the extent of colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) in the northern Great Plains states of Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. We stratified the survey based on knowledge of colony locations, computed 2 types of estimates for each stratum, and combined ratio estimates for high-density strata with average density estimates for low-density strata. Estimates of colony areas for black-tailed prairie dogs were derived from the average percentages of lines intercepting prairie dog colonies and ratio estimators. We selected the best estimator based on the correlation between length of transect line and length of intercepted colonies. Active colonies of black- tailed prairie dogs occupied 2,377.8 km2 ± 186.4 SE, whereas inactive colonies occupied 560.4 ± 89.2 km2. These data represent the 1st quantitative assessment of black-tailed prairie dog colonies in the northern Great Plains. The survey dispels popular notions that millions of hectares of colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs exist in the northern Great Plains and can form the basis for future survey efforts.