Prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) have been labeled keystone species because of the role they play as disturbance creators and ecosystem engineers in the western grasslands of North America. Most studies have concentrated on the black-tailed species (C. ludovicianus); however, other species of prairie dogs may have different effects on their ecosystems. We measured plant cover and biomass, canopy height, and plant nitrogen concentration on and off 6 Gunnison's prairie dog (C. gunnisoni) towns and 6 paired areas off prairie dog towns in southern Colorado. Multivariate analysis of variance and analysis of variance showed no significant differences (P > 0.05) in vegetation cover or biomass on and off of Gunnison's prairie dog towns, contrary to what has been found for black-tailed prairie dog towns. No significant differences were found in canopy height (P > 0.05); however, this may be due to already short vegetation (5–7 cm). Only 1 of 4 focal plants showed a significant difference in nitrogen concentration. No significant differences were found in species diversity on and off prairie dog towns; however, because of drought, these results are inconclusive. This study found few vegetation differences on and off Gunnison's prairie dog towns. Furthermore, those differences were more subtle than those reported on black-tailed prairie dog towns. While the mechanisms for differences in vegetation on and off Gunnison's prairie dog towns may be similar to those on black-tailed prairie dog towns, the magnitude of these differences may be different.
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Vol. 59 • No. 1