State Wildlife Grant - T-3-1

Project Title

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel Colonies in ND: Distribution, Trend and Burrowing Owl Use

Target Species

Richardson’s Ground Squirrel

Timeline

Jan. 2004 – March 2005

Investigators

Marsha Sovada, Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

Description

Richardson’s ground squirrel was once a widespread species east of the Missouri River and served as a critical link in the life history of other vertebrate species characteristic of the northern prairie ecosystem. In the contemporary prairie landscape, the species continues to be the key prey of many mammalian carnivores and raptors such as the American badger and ferruginous hawk, and it creates microhabitats important to other species such as the burrowing owl. Regrettably no data are available on population distribution or long-term trend of Richardson’s ground squirrel across North Dakota. Evidence suggests that numbers of its colonies have declined in at least some areas of the state, partly due to loss of crucial habitat (heavily grazed, open native prairie). Knowledge of the species’ distributional changes, and information on reasons underlying such changes, is needed to manage the ground squirrel and the vertebrate species closely associated with ground squirrel colonies, which includes species of special concern such as the burrowing owl and the ferruginous hawk.