Wellington, CO, United States
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Jachowski D.S.,University of Missouri | Millspaugh J.J.,University of Missouri | Biggins D.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Livieri T.M.,Prairie Wildlife Research | And 2 more authors.
Natural Areas Journal | Year: 2011

The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), once extinct in the wild, remains one of the most critically endangered mammals in North America despite 18 years of reintroduction attempts. Because black-footed ferrets are specialized predators of prairie dogs (Cynomys sp.), a better understanding of how black-footed ferrets select resources might provide insight into how best to identify and manage reintroduction sites. We monitored ferret resource selection at two reintroduction sites with different densities of prairie dog populations-one that contained a high density of prairie dogs (Conata Basin, South Dakota) and one that was lower (UL Bend, Montana). We evaluated support for hypotheses about ferret resource selection as related to the distribution of active burrows used by black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus), interactions between ferrets, and habitat edge effects. We found support for all three factors within both populations; however, they affected ferret resource selection differently at each site. Ferrets at Conata Basin tended to select areas with high prairie dog burrow density, closer to the colony edge, and that overlapped other ferret ranges. In contrast, ferrets at UL Bend tended not to select areas of high active prairie dog burrow density, avoided areas close to edge habitat, and females avoided areas occupied by other ferrets. The differences observed between the two sites might be best explained by prairie dog densities, which were higher at Conata Basin (119.3 active burrows per ha) than at UL Bend (44.4 active burrows per ha). Given the positive growth of ferret populations at Conata Basin, management that increases the density of prairie dogs might enhance ferret success within natural areas. To achieve long-term recovery of ferrets in the wild, conservationists should increasingly work across and outside natural area boundaries to increase prairie dog populations.


Biggins D.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Livieri T.M.,Prairie Wildlife Research | Breck S.W.,Wildlife ServicesNational Wildlife Research Center
Journal of Mammalogy | Year: 2011

Questions and problems that emerged during operational conservation of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) have been addressed by a wide variety of studies. Early results from such studies often were communicated orally during meetings of recovery groups and in written form using memoranda, unpublished reports, and theses. Typically, implementation of results preceded their publication in widely distributed journals. Many of these studies eventually were published in journals, and we briefly summarize the contents of 8 volumes and special features of journals that have been dedicated to the biology of ferrets and issues in ferret recovery. This year marks the 30th anniversary of rediscovery of the black-footed ferret, and the 7 papers of the following Special Feature summarize data collected over nearly that span of time. © 2011 American Society of Mammalogists.


Jachowski D.S.,University of Missouri | Millspaugh J.J.,University of Missouri | Biggins D.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Livieri T.M.,Prairie Wildlife Research | Matchett M.R.,U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Wildlife Biology | Year: 2010

Effective conservation planning for endangered species depends on an understanding of space use patterns. Black-footed ferrets Mustela nigripes depend on prairie dogs Cynomys sp. as prey and use their burrow systems for shelter. The availability of areas with high densities of active prairie dog burrows is the major factor thought to affect their selection of sites and resources. However, we have little knowledge about how the spatial distribution of active prairie dog burrows might influence the spatial organization and home-range size of ferrets. We monitored the movements of black-footed ferrets on a black-tailed prairie dog C. ludovicianus colony in South Dakota to document ferret space use patterns. Home ranges of female ferrets were 22.9 - 95.6 ha in size (x̄ = 56.3 ha, SE = 19.7, N = 6), while male ferret home ranges were on average more than twice as large as those of females (x̄ = 128.3 ha, SE = 68.5, N = 3). The home-range size of female ferrets was correlated with mean active prairie dog burrow utilization distribution (UD) value within ferret home ranges, where home-range size decreased as active prairie dog burrow UD value increased (r2 = 0.974, P < 0.001, N = 6). Ferret space use overlapped more extensively than previously reported, with up to 43 UD overlap between a ferret and the nearest adjacent ferret of the same sex. Areas of overlap tended to have higher active prairie dog burrow UD values, suggesting that the spatial distribution of active prairie dog burrows influenced both home-range size and the amount of space use overlap between ferrets. These findings emphasize the potential influence of resource distribution on carnivore sociobiology and the importance of considering that distribution in assessing habitat for the reintroduction of specialized species. © 2010 Wildlife Biology.


Eads D.A.,Colorado State University | Biggins D.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Livieri T.M.,Prairie Wildlife Research | Millspaugh J.J.,University of Missouri
Journal of Mammalogy | Year: 2013

We evaluated how American badgers (Taxidea taxus) might exert selective pressure on black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) to develop antipredator defenses. In a colony of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) in South Dakota, badgers concentrated their activities where burrow openings and prairie dogs were abundant, a selective behavior that was exhibited by ferrets in the same colony. Badgers excavated burrows more often when in areas recently used by a ferret, suggesting that badgers hunt ferrets or steal prey from ferrets, or both. We also conducted an analysis of survival studies for ferrets and Siberian polecats (M. eversmanii) released onto prairie dog colonies. This polecat is the ferret's ecological equivalent but evolved without a digging predator. Badgers accounted for 30.0% of predation on polecats and 5.5% of predation on ferrets. In contrast, both polecats and ferrets have evolutionary experience with canids, providing a plausible explanation for the similar relative impact of coyotes (Canis latrans) on them (65.0% and 67.1% of predation, respectively). We hypothesize that ferrets and badgers coexist because ferrets are superior at exploitation competition and are efficient at avoiding badgers, and badgers are superior at interference competition. © 2013 American Society of Mammalogists.


Poessel S.A.,Colorado State University | Biggins D.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Santymire R.M.,Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology | Livieri T.M.,Prairie Wildlife Research | And 2 more authors.
General and Comparative Endocrinology | Year: 2011

Potential stressors of wildlife living in captivity, such as artificial living conditions and frequent human contact, may lead to a higher occurrence of disease and reduced reproductive function. One successful method used by wildlife managers to improve general well-being is the provision of environmental enrichment, which is the practice of providing animals under managed care with environmental stimuli. The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) is a highly-endangered carnivore species that was rescued from extinction by removal of the last remaining individuals from the wild to begin an ex situ breeding program. Our goal was to examine the effect of environmental enrichment on adrenocortical activity in ferrets by monitoring fecal glucocorticoid metabolites (FGM). Results demonstrated that enrichment lowered FGM in juvenile male ferrets, while increasing it in adult females; enrichment had no effect on FGM in juvenile females and adult males. These results correspond with our findings that juvenile males interacted more with the enrichment items than did adult females. However, we did not detect an impact of FGM on the incidence of disease or on the ability of ferrets to become reproductive during the following breeding season. We conclude that an environmental enrichment program could benefit captive juvenile male ferrets by reducing adrenocortical activity. © 2011 Elsevier Inc.


Biggins D.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Godbey J.L.,U.S. Geological Survey | Horton B.M.,U.S. Geological Survey | Horton B.M.,Emory University | And 2 more authors.
Journal of Mammalogy | Year: 2011

Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) apparently were extirpated from all native habitats by 1987, and their repatriation requires a combination of captive breeding, reintroductions, and translocations among sites. Improvements in survival rates of released ferrets have resulted from experience in quasi-natural environments during their rearing. Reestablishment of a self-sustaining wild population by 1999 provided the 1st opportunity to initiate new populations by translocating wild-born individuals. Using radiotelemetry, we compared behaviors and survival of 18 translocated wild-born ferrets and 18 pen-experienced captive-born ferrets after their release into a prairie dog colony not occupied previously by ferrets. Translocated wild-born ferrets moved significantly less and had significantly higher short-term survival rates than their captive-born counterparts. Using markrecapture methods, we also assessed potential impacts to the established donor population of removing 37% of its estimated annual production of kits. Annual survival rates for 30 ferret kits remaining at the donor subcomplex were higher than rates for 54 ferret kits at the control subcomplex (unmanipulated) for males (+82%) and females (+32%). Minimum survival of translocated kits did not differ significantly from survival of those at the control subcomplex. Direct translocation of young, wild-born ferrets from site to site appears to be an efficient method to establish new populations. © 2011 American Society of Mammalogists.


Cain C.M.,Central Michigan University | Livieri T.M.,Prairie Wildlife Research | Swanson B.J.,Central Michigan University
Journal of Mammalogy | Year: 2011

The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) went extinct in the wild when the last 18 known ferrets were captured for a captive-breeding program. Following the success of the captive-breeding program, 146 genetically nonessential ferrets were released at the Conata Basin, South Dakota, from 1996 to 1999. We conducted a genetic analysis of the Conata Basin black-footed ferret population from 2001 to 2003 to determine if genetic variation had been lost since the cessation of reintroductions and if demographic- and genetic-based estimates of effective population size (Ne) accurately predicted observed levels of heterozygosity. We used DNA from wild-born kits (n ?=? 254) in the Conata Basin population (20012003) to calculate current genetic diversity levels. Both allelic diversity (A ?=? 2, both subpopulations) and mean heterozygosity were low for both subpopulations0.39 ± 0.12 SE in Agate-Sage Creek and 0.39 ± 0.16 SE in Heck Tablebut not significantly different from estimates made in 1999. We found no significant difference between observed and expected heterozygosity levels. Demographic-based estimates of Ne were an order of magnitude higher than genetic-based estimates of Ne, but the 2 estimates provide a range of Ne values for the population. This study shows that the Conata Basin ferret population is able to maintain its genetic diversity over time despite its population history. © 2011 American Society of Mammalogists.


Eads D.A.,University of Missouri | Millspaugh J.J.,University of Missouri | Biggins D.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Livieri T.M.,Prairie Wildlife Research | Jachowski D.S.,University of Missouri
Journal of Mammalogy | Year: 2011

We investigated postbreeding resource selection by adult black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) on a 452-ha black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colony in the Conata Basin of South Dakota during 20072008. We used resource selection functions (RSFs) to evaluate relationships between numbers of ferret locations and numbers of prairie dog burrow openings (total or active), distances to colony edges, and connectivity of patches of burrow openings. In both years ferrets selected areas near edges of the prairie dog colony where active burrow openings were abundant. In the interior of the colony ferrets selected areas with low abundance of active burrow openings. At times, prairie dog productivity (i.e., pup abundance) might be greatest at colony edges often characterized by grasses; ferrets are likely to select areas where refuge and vulnerable prey are abundant. Ferrets could have used interior areas with few active burrow openings as corridors between edge areas with many active burrow openings. Also, in areas with few active burrow openings ferrets spend more time aboveground during movements and, thus, are likely to be more easily detected. These results complement previous studies demonstrating importance of refuge and prey in fine-scale resource selection by ferrets and provide insight into factors that might influence edge effects on ferret space use. Conservation and restoration of colonies with areas with high densities of burrow openings and prairie dogs, and corridors between such areas, are needed for continued recovery of the black-footed ferret. RSFs could complement coarse-scale habitat evaluations by providing finer-scale assessments of habitat for the black-footed ferret. © 2011 American Society of Mammalogists.


Eads D.A.,U.S. Geological Survey | Biggins D.E.,U.S. Geological Survey | Livieri T.M.,Prairie Wildlife Research
Journal of Zoology | Year: 2015

In western North America, endangered black-footed ferrets Mustela nigripes are conserved via reintroduction to colonies of prairie dogs Cynomys spp., their primary prey. Predation is an important source of mortality; coyotes Canis latrans appear to be the most problematic predator, accounting for 67% of known predation events on radio-tagged ferrets. Little is known about what factors affect spatial use of prairie dog colonies by coyotes, or how other animals might affect interactions between coyotes and ferrets. During June-October 2007-2008, we used spotlight surveys to monitor coyotes and ferrets (both years) and rabbits Sylvilagus spp. (first year) on a 452-ha colony of black-tailed prairie dogs Cynomys ludovicianus in the Conata Basin, South Dakota. Coyotes appeared to select areas of the colony used by rabbits, suggesting coyotes hunted rabbits, a common item in their diet. Between midnight and sunrise, ferrets were most commonly observed during early morning (01:00-03:00h), whereas coyotes were observed mostly during dawn (04:00h - sunrise) when ferrets were rarely seen. These temporal differences in the timing of observations suggest ferrets tend to remain underground in burrows when coyotes are most active. Coyotes appeared to be attracted to rabbits in both space and time, suggesting the risk of predation for ferrets might relate to the abundance and locations of rabbits in prairie dog colonies. © 2015 The Zoological Society of London.


Livieri T.M.,University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point | Livieri T.M.,Prairie Wildlife Research | Anderson E.M.,University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point
Western North American Naturalist | Year: 2012

We estimated annual home ranges and core areas of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) in Conata Basin, South Dakota, by collecting 834 locations of 28 ferrets (20 females, 8 males) through spotlighting from October 1997 to September 2000. Area-per-observation curves showed that a minimum of 23 locations were needed to estimate fixed-kernel home-range size. Mean 95% and 50% fixed-kernel annual home-range sizes of females (95%: 64.7 ha, SE = 11.6; 50%: 12.7 ha, SE = 3.0) were significantly smaller and less variable than those of males (95%: 131.8 ha, SE = 40.3; 50%: 35.6 ha, SE = 16.5). Minimum convex polygon home-range estimates also differed between females (41.9 ha, SE = 6.5 ha) and males (86.3 ha, SE = 21.3). Females' ranges were consistently less variable than males' ranges, regardless of the home-range estimator used. Female home-range size was negatively related to male density (r 2 = 0.433), and male home-range size was positively associated with age (r 2 = 0.671). Intersexual overlap and intrasexual exclusivity of home ranges was evident, suggesting that ferrets conform to a typical mustelid spacing pattern. Core use areas (50% fixed-kernel ranges) had significantly higher black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) densities than 95% areas (t = 5.17, P = 0.014), suggesting that core areas are located in areas of higher prairie dog densities. Relative to other mustelids, black-footed ferrets have considerably smaller home ranges.

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