Prairie Dogs: An Ecological Review and Current Biopolitics



ABSTRACT  In recent years, people have interpreted scientific information about the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) in various, and sometimes conflicting, ways. Political complexity around the relationship among black-tailed prairie dogs, agricultural interests, and wildlife has increased in recent years, particularly when prairie dogs occur on publicly owned lands leased to private entities for livestock grazing. Some have proposed that estimates of prairie dog (Cynomys spp.) numbers from 1900 are inflated, that prairie dog grazing is not unique (other grazers have similar affects on vegetation), and that prairie dogs significantly reduce carrying capacity for livestock and wildlife. We address all these issues but concentrate on the degree of competition between prairie dogs and ungulates because this motivates most prairie dog control actions. We conclude that the available information does not justify holding distribution and numbers of prairie dogs at a level that is too low to perform their keystone ecological function. We further conclude that it is especially important that prairie dogs be sufficiently abundant on public lands to perform this function.