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Full Access Effects of urbanization on the behaviour of a keystone species

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Effects of urbanization on the behaviour of a keystone species

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Habitat fragmentation and urbanization not only cause extirpation of species, but also alter the behaviour of species in human modified areas. We evaluated behavioural characteristics of the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), a keystone species, in the urban landscape of Denver, CO, USA. Specifically, we investigated the proportion of vigilance, foraging, and social behaviour within a system of urban colonies that varied in area, degree of connectivity, and time since isolation. Overall, rates of vigilance were lower than are typically reported for black-tailed prairie dogs in grassland habitats. Colonies that were more isolated exhibited higher levels of vigilance, but colonies isolated for a longer period of time exhibited reduced vigilance. Thus, while urban stimuli may increase alertness in the most isolated colonies, we suggest that black-tailed prairie dogs might eventually adjust to these stimuli and relax their vigilance responses. Because behaviour varies based on age of fragments, we provide evidence that black-tailed prairie dog populations are responding to urbanization through behavioural changes that may be adaptive. The ability to understand how landscape-level factors influence black-tailed prairie dog behaviour provides important information about the response of keystone species to urban settings and can aid conservation and management efforts in fragmented systems.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Conservation and Science, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, IL 60614, USA;, Email:; 2: Department of Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 53706, USA


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