Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type



Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Dale Miller

Second Advisor

Nichole Barger

Third Advisor

Timothy Seastedt


The Colorado Front Range has experienced a significant increase in urbanization and habitat fragmentation over the past half century. This increase in urbanization has created a highly fragmented landscape with areas of green space surrounded by urban and suburban environments. Along the Front Range of Colorado, the intense foraging and grazing habits of native black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) on fragmented Open Space Mountain Park lands is interacting with erosional forces, nonnative plant invasions, and global climate change resulting in what could be considered novel shrubland communities. In this honors thesis I examine the questions: could prairie dog interactions with different elements of global climate change, such as increased soil erosion, increased temperature, and increased variability in precipitation, potentially transform the mixed-grass prairie ecosystems found on Boulder County Open Space into shrublands? What do these potential interactions imply for prairie dog and land management practices on Boulder County Open Space? Surface soil samples were collected from eleven prairie dog colonies located throughout Boulder County and one colony from Broomfield County. Results were then compared to bare soil cover data obtained by city managers to examine how vulnerable these colonies are to events such as minor dust storms For all 12 colonies sampled the mean percentage TOC and TN contained in the surface soils increased as you moved from on colony to colony edge to off colony. These results and the comparison of these results to the bare soil cover data comparisons indicate that desertification may be occurring on prairie dog colonies in Boulder County. This has significant implications for land managers in Boulder if they aim to preserve the native grassland ecosystems on Boulder County Open Space and Mountain Parks’ lands.