Great Basin Naturalist


Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) once occupied extensive areas throughout the Great Plains. In recent years massive control programs have been initiated to reduce prairie dog populations, primarily to benefit the livestock grazing industry. Currently in western South Dakota most prairie dogs are found on public lands. Control programs using toxicants for prairie dogs have been found to be economically unfeasible when not combined with reductions in livestock grazing. Control programs also have negatively impacted some nontarget species of birds and small mammals. Livestock grazing is directly related to prairie dog densities. Prairie dog and livestock grazing activities are responsible for keeping plant phenological development in a suppressed vegetative stage with higher nutritional qualities that attract greater herbivore use. Prairie dog colonies create and enhance habitat for many wildlife species; in western South Dakota 134 vertebrate wildlife species have been documented on prairie dog towns. Scientific evidence strongly suggests that prairie dogs are valuable components of the prairie ecosystem. They are responsible for maintaining, creating, and regulating habitat biodiversity through soil and vegetative manipulation for a host of vertebrate and invertebrate species dependent upon prairie dog activity for their survival.