• Grazing intensity influences ground squirrel and american badger habitat use in mixed-grass prairies

      Bylo, L. N.; Koper, N.; Molloy, K. A. (Society for Range Management, 2014-05)
      Ground squirrel (Spermophilus spp.) and American badger (Taxidea taxus) burrowing activities are ecologically important disturbances that contribute to the heterogeneity of prairie environments. These activities also have a strong impact on habitat suitability for many other grassland species. However, effects of cattle grazing intensity on ground squirrel and American badger burrows are not well understood. From 2006 to 2012 we evaluated effects of grazing intensity and vegetation type on American badger burrow occurrence and ground squirrel burrow abundance using a manipulative grazing experiment in Grasslands National Park of Canada, Saskatchewan. The study area consisted of nine 300-ha pastures at a range of stocking rates, from very low to very high for the region. Each pasture had 10 plots (six upland and four lowland) where vegetation and burrow surveys were completed. Burrow abundance and occurrence as well as vegetation structure were assessed for 2 yr prior to the introduction of cattle to this landscape in 2008, which followed at least 15 yr without livestock, and from 2009 to 2012, following introduction of livestock. Data were analyzed using generalized linear mixed models. In upland habitats, ground squirrel burrow counts increased with increasing grazing intensity and decreasing vegetation biomass; conversely, badger burrow occurrence increased with decreased stocking rates and increasing average litter cover and vegetation biomass. Abundance and occurrence of both ground squirrel and badger burrows in lowland habitats was relatively independent of grazing intensity or vegetation. Vegetation composition had little impact on ground squirrel or badger burrows. A range of grazing intensities may contribute to maintaining diversity of burrowing mammals in prairie environments.