Effects of food resource distribution on the social system of Gunnison's prairie dog (Cynomys gunnisoni)

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We tested the predictions of Slobodchikoff's habitat variability - mating system model using the social system of Gunnison's prairie dog (Cynomys gunnisoni). The model predicts that when resources are abundant and patchily distributed, social groups will include several females, while scarce, uniformly distributed resources will lead to smaller groups with single females. Gunnison's prairie dogs form family groups consisting of a single adult male and female(s), and their young of the year, which occupy fixed spatial territories within a colonial framework. Resource abundances and distributions were characterized and compared at two colonies in northern Arizona. Resource abundance did not vary between colonies, while two separate measures showed resource distribution to be significantly more patchy at one colony than at the other. As predicted, there were significantly more territories with multiple females at the patchy colony, while single-female territories predominated at the uniform colony. While the differences in resource abundance between colonies were not significant from a statistical standpoint, sizable differences were observed, with the direction of the difference opposite to that predicted by the model