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Evaluating habitat for black-footed ferrets: Revision of an existing model

January 1, 2006

Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) are highly dependent on prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) as prey, and prairie dog colonies are the only known habitats that sustain black-footed ferret populations. An existing model used extensively for evaluating black-footed ferret reintroduction habitat defined complexes by interconnecting colonies with 7-km line segments. Although the 7-km complex remains a useful construct, we propose additional, smaller-scale evaluations that consider 1.5-km subcomplexes. The original model estimated the carrying capacity of complexes based on energy requirements of ferrets and density estimates of their prairie dog prey. Recent data have supported earlier contentions of intraspecific competition and intrasexual territorial behavior in ferrets. We suggest a revised model that retains the fixed linear relationship of the existing model when prairie dog densities are <18/ha and uses a curvilinear relationship that reflects increasing effects of ferret territoriality when there are 18–42 prairie dogs per hectare. We discuss possible effects of colony size and shape, interacting with territoriality, as justification for the exclusion of territorial influences if a prairie dog colony supports only a single female ferret. We also present data to support continued use of active prairie dog burrow densities as indices suitable for broad-scale estimates of prairie dog density. Calculation of percent of complexes that are occupied by prairie dog colonies was recommended as part of the original habitat evaluation process. That attribute has been largely ignored, resulting in rating anomalies.

Publication Year 2006
Title Evaluating habitat for black-footed ferrets: Revision of an existing model
Authors Dean E. Biggins, J. Michael Lockhart, Jerry L. Godbey
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70180908
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center