Past Research Projects
Prairie Dog Research
Comparing reptile, amphibian, and small mammal diversity and abundance between prairie dog colonies and non-colonized grassland at the PCC:
From 2001-2003, researchers Bryon Shipley and Rich Reading from the Denver Zoo captured reptiles and amphibians using different kinds of live-catch traps along with low-profile fences designed to guide animals into the traps. Reptiles and amphibians were marked and released in order to learn how these animals are distributed between prairie dog colonies and adjacent grassland areas without prairie dogs. Small mammals that were captured incidentally were included in the study. Recent research suggests that prairie dogs play a keystone role in grassland ecosystems, influencing species diversity. Shipley and Reading’s research showed that some species were captured more often on colonies and others more often off of colonies. This means that wildlife diversity in the prairie grassland community can be much greater when prairie dog colonies flourish in combination with untouched prairie. The research was supported and partially funded by the PCC.
Prairie rattlesnake movements association with the prairie dog colonies at the PCC:
Led by rattlesnake researcher Bryon Shipley, the Plains Conservation Center and Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald with East Alameda Veterinary Hospital collaborated on a two-year study of prairie rattlesnakes that ended in late 2006. Radio transmitters were surgically implanted into 13 rattlesnakes the first spring, and 7 the second spring. All snakes were then released back into our prairie preserve. Throughout the late spring, summer and early fall, the rattlesnakes were tracked using a radio receiver and directional antenna. Each rattlesnake's transmitter corresponded to a different radio frequency, which became the rattlesnake's “name” during the study period. For example, a rattlesnake whose radio frequency was 150.920 megahertz became “920”. As each rattlesnake was tracked using its particular radio “name”, the rattlesnake's current GPS location was recorded, along with its weight, length, and sex, in addition to air and ground temperatures. Volunteers supported by the PCC and other sources were indispensable in tracking rattlesnakes and recording data. This study was the first of its kind in the Colorado eastern plains and answers questions about differences in male and female migration patterns and home ranges as influenced by prairie dog activities, many of which create beneficial ecological changes in the grassland ecosystem.
Animal Planet filmed the initial release of radio transmitter implanted snakes and aired the film on E-Vets.
The K-T (Cretaceous-Tertiary) Boundary marks one of the two most awesome annihilations of life in the history of earth. At the K-T boundary, 70% of life on earth—including dinosaurs, flying reptiles, most marine reptiles, all ammonites, all baculites, 50% of land plants, all North American marsupials and a great percentage of marine plankton—disappeared from the fossil record, never to be seen again.
Dr. Kirk Johnson, of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, has led research on the exposure of the K-T boundary at the PCC West Bijou site. The team has used the following process to zero in on the exact layer:
- Found Cretaceous-aged pollen at the bottom of the exposures
- Collected Paleocene-aged fossils at the top of the exposures
- Systematically collected pollen samples through exposures -- this narrowed the zone to 3m
- Found dinosaur bones 4 m below the K-T coal
- Narrowed the K-T horizon to 1cm by pollen analysis
- Found diagnostic Paleocene mammal jaw just 12m above the strata of focus.
The West Bijou K-T Boundary exposure is not only globally significant in that it will further illuminate the catastrophic event and how earth recovers from such events, but it also stands to recalibrate geologic time!
Drs. Janet Wingate and Lorraine Yeats have been documenting and collecting botanical specimens at the West Bijou site of the PCC since 2003. After the specimens are collected, pressed and dried, they are mounted and become part of the Denver Botanic Gardens herbarium collection. Herbarium specimens are concurrently being collected for the PCC and the University of Colorado. To date, over 275 plant species have been identified and collected.
Dedicated birders Karen Metz, Ann Bonnell, Sandy Schnitzer and many others have worked since 2003 to compile a species list and document bird sightings on a monthly or bimonthly basis. This will enable the PCC to track the changes in bird populations over time. A list of species sighted and summary of the numbers of birds seen each year will soon be available here.
Budburst Citizen Scientist Effort
Interested in climate change? Participate in a national citizen science effort in your own backyard or nearby park that you visit frequently. You can follow plants like aspen, common yarrow or western serviceberry to see when budburst and bloom occur. Compare with other scientists like yourselves - log on and check "Participate"- find the activity guide and data collection sheet and you're on your way!
Networks of incised dry channels, called arroyos or gullies, are common features of prairie and desert landscapes. These channels form an important part of the ecosystem and water cycle. Thanks to occasional flash floods and the shade provided by their banks, gully networks tend to be zones of high soil moisture that support less drought-tolerant plant species. The deeper and more vegetated channels provide shade for wildlife, and their walls offer burrow and nest sites for birds and small mammals. Dr. Greg Tucker, Assistant Professor of Geology at the University of Colorado, is studying the rates and patterns of gully channel changes at the West Bijou site of the PCC.
Metro State College professor Dr. Jonathan Kent and his archaeology students and volunteers conducted surveys to document areas that showed evidence of previous human inhabitants of the PCC’s prairie lands. They surveyed about a quarter of the PCC’s West Bijou site, documenting sites and isolated artifacts. The Colorado Archaeological Society augmented these surveys during October and November 2006.