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Prairie Dogs

Environmentalists have labeled prairie dogs as the key species due to their influence on the functioning of ecosystems and biological diversity. This paper looks at the validity of this statement by analyzing the benefits of prairie dogs in Northern Colorado. The prairie dogs have come under attack from farmers and rangers due to the competition for vegetation. Due to the lack of the appropriate information, people as well as the government have over the years endangered the existence of these dogs trying to eliminate. The paper looks at the consequences of this elimination with emphasizing the roles of the prairie dogs on grasslands. It also looks at the historical studies of different types of grasses, the effect of prairie dogs on the grasses, and the activities of the prairie dogs. At the conclusion, the paper argues on the losses that Northern Colorado will stand in case it eliminates these dogs. Instead of eliminating the prairie dogs, the paper encourages the government to offer some incentives for farmers preserving their lands for these rodents.

Northern Colorado contains much of gentle slopes with short bushes and shrubs, which roll the plains on the Colorado Plateau. The ecological system at this place supports shrub lands that remain short. The substrates are alkaline, saline, and shallow with fine textured soils. Because of this, the soils need an agent to help replenishing nutrients as well as maintain the soil texture. It also becomes difficult for animals to survive in such an ecological system. Prairie dogs are unique animals that symbolize the survival of other vertebrate species that depend on native grasslands. Additionally, these dogs have the biological value that is intrinsic for the environment. If we are able to identify the species with potential benefits to our ecosystems and utilize this information while developing the management policies, then we can effectively conserve our biodiversity (Power et al. 199). The attitudes and interests of rural landowners and agricultural communities in western North America, together with the expanding population of residents, usually conflict with the interests of environmentalists and ecologists over the importance of prairie dogs to the grassland’s ecological systems. When these dogs are abundant, they have the ability of drastically altering the grassland vegetation, hence, creating an extensive and persistent system of burrows. Ranchers argue that these modifications severely limit the lands making it incompetent for the livestock production. They have used these arguments to justify programs that the government sponsors to help eradicating prairie dogs. Surveyors have historically exaggerated the possible amount of land that the prairie dogs occupy, though the research indicates that land is now 10% less than the native range. This is because people have converted the native prairie to agriculture and the government’s control efforts emphasize the extinction of these dogs (Gill, 1995).

In the response, environmentalists argue that these programs are not only economically costly, but also ecologically costly because many species depend on prairie dogs as well as the activities of these dogs. Environmentalists have linked the decline of black-footed forests to the government’s control programs. Because of this, they carried out the campaigns to raise public awareness on the ecosystem of prairies dogs and encourage people to rally for the removal of the government’s control programs against prairie dogs.

In one of the articles requesting for the protection of prairie dogs, the environmentalists and ecologists outlined that the government should eliminate the eradication programs. Instead, it should offer incentives for farmers who preserve their farms for the conservation of prairie dogs. They also requested for the education of people to transform their negative attitudes towards the species. These efforts need the federal protection of dogs under the act of endangered species. They argued that the government should make some similar commitments to the protection of prairie dogs as it has made with other animals. Education will also help farmers and other people knowledgeable about the benefits of prairie dogs, thereby helping to preserve them.

The black-tailed prairie is the most common specie of prairie dogs. It inhabits the mixed prairies of Northern Colorado, where 60% of land is agricultural, and farmers use it for grazing their livestock. Because of this, they persecute prairie dogs. The animosity against prairie dogs may be due to dogs feeding on the grass sedges just like cattle, hence, reducing the amount of feed available for their livestock. When prairie dogs and native ungulates graze, they improve the vegetation’s native quality, which, in its turn, compensates for the forage production losses. In other words, prairie dogs are grazing favor the growth of sort vegetation instead of taller grasses. In addition, burrows offer the refuge for shrubs and forbs, hence, modifying the soil microclimate. This implies that farmers should not be worried about prairie dogs competing for vegetation because in the long-run, they help it regerminate. These significantly affect the cycling of nutrients as well as other ecosystem processes. The ancient research also indicated that the disturbances brought about by prairie dogs transformed habitat conditions for many grassland animals. A comparison of surrounding grasslands with and those without prairie dogs realized that the prairie dog ecosystem sustains a big number of small arthropods and mammals. Additionally, the consequences of these dogs on species vary on different grasslands.

When prairie dogs graze and burrow, they cause the disturbances, which affect various ecosystem level processes. By grazing, they affect the vegetation structure as they decrease the vegetation height and cover as well as reduce the composition of the plant composition. Their burrowing also influences nitrogen-cycling rates leading to the increased uptake of nitrogen by plants. Because of this, there is preferential grazing of these dogs by bison, pronghorn, and elk. Prairie dogs augment soil mixing, which, in turn, have an impact on the material flow and energy rates. Differences in density of colony together with the length of occupancy lead to a shift of patches, which cause the variations in structure, quality, and composition of vegetation among the patches. Their general activities influence on patch dynamics as well as contribute to the heterogeneity of the overall landscape. The climatic variability and fire are the impacts of disturbances that prairie dogs cause. Prairie dogs create some patch level disturbances, which interact with large-scale disturbances reducing their impacts on the structures of landscapes and their dynamics. Too much rainfall usually affects the prairie dogs’ disturbances. In the past, bison also caused the disturbance influencing the spatial distribution of these dogs.

There are abundant birds, terrestrial predators, and small mammals in colonies of prairies dogs. The total population of small mammals in colonies is highly relative to the abundance of mice, grasshoppers, and horned larks. This complements the agreement that dog colonies have a five times frequency of predators compared. Despite this, environmentalists have failed to evaluate the generality and validity of this pattern due to the lack of adequate information on the methods of analysis. Dogs also have an impact on the structure of the community as they increase the species richness. While studies suggest that these dogs usually increase the richness, this fact is questionable because sometimes they decrease it, especially in the individual colonies scale. In small mammal colonies, there may be the species richness compared to the un-colonized areas.

Conversely, the richness in plant species is closely related to the degree of prairie dog disturbances. The floral species richness is the greatest in intermediate disturbance levels, though the pattern varies among shrubs, forbs, and grasses. The variance in plant species is also related to the age of the colony, vegetation types, species richness, prairie dogs species, and seasons. This range of richness patterns implies to the confusion and difficulty of using the patterns to characterize prairie dogs’ roles.

The activities of these dogs are also beneficial to other herbivorous mammals. In the established colonies, the pronghorn forage preferentially in places where dwarfs and forbs are abundant. Bisons, on the other hand, concentrate on the newly colonized because grazing influences the grasses’ nutritive value. Prairies dog colonies are concentrated in places on bottomlands and swales, where there are deep and finely structured soils. It is natural that these places are more productive compared to the surrounding up hills, which are dry and infertile. They support the existence of desert cottontails in high densities in comparison to the un-colonized regions. Prairie dogs also effect on the population of rabbits as the rabbits’ diets are mainly grasslands. Because prairie dogs support the growth of short grasslands, rabbits benefit by obtaining a constant supply of grassland. In addition, Goertzen & Béha (2004) found out that arthropods dwelling in the foliage had a higher biomass in the areas with no prairie dogs, compared to those in colonies.

Additionally, there are reports that indicate the seasonal variance in densities of macro arthropods placed at prairie dog’s pitfalls. This was similar to the macro arthropods in the nearby grasslands. Prairie dogs also provide some crucial habitats for burrowing owls and mountain plovers. To demonstrate the impacts of prairie dogs on the bird density, Patent & Munoz (1999) carried out a study on the relationships of the two species. The study realized that there was a higher avian density in prairie dog colonies than in prairies without the colonies. The study attributed the high number of birds to the availability of horned larks, a species that is capable of forming large flocks with the limited vegetation. Most of the species, that the study had sighted, such as raptors, prey on prairie dogs and depend on trees and riparian areas.

To understand the effects of the absence of prairie dogs in Northern Colorado, environmentalists have analyzed the environmental situation after the introduction of plaque. This disease is caused by yersinia pestis, a bacterium. It affects a number of mammals but prairie dogs are the most susceptible preys. Within months, the disease could wipe out prairie dogs inhabiting over 100 hectares of land. Because of this, disease is the greatest threat to the existence of black-tailed prairie dogs. Prairie dogs’ epizootics usually occur sporadically, with the long maintenance phases. Transmission of the bacterium under normal conditions happens in various ways, such as consumption of tissues that have been infected. Other transmission means including the direct contact and fleabites from the infected host. Because prairie dogs play the same key stone roles in their habitat, ecologists and environmentalists request for the federal protection of the species. However, our understanding of their effects emanates from the mixed-grass prairie studies. In the mixed-grass prairie, grazing by the dogs reduce the density of taller grass while increasing the density of shorter grass such as buffalo grass. The studies further isolate the colonies with the dense vegetation and moderate slopes (Barko, 1996).

In addition, plaque or flooding increase the chances of extinction of prairie dogs. Grazing on mixed prairie leads to invasion of shrubs and forbs, which is unhealthy for the soil. Conversely, grazing on short grass steppes decreases the plant diversity. Because of this, the vegetation structure and species of the plant composition are not different among prairie dogs’ colonies. Similar to the mixed prairie, variations in soils, topography, and land use naturally fragment short grass steppes. The consequence of this is that the fauna on these lands becomes less sensitive to grazing of prairie dogs, while the mixed prairie becomes inhabitable (Mills, Soule & Doak, 1997). 

Though there are the benefits of the short grass steppe as a residence for the dogs, there is the limited knowledge of how grazing of prairie dogs on these grasslands affects other animals. Studies of Northern Colorado indicate that the abundance of mammals on comparable grasslands and colonies is higher in idle colonies than in active ones. An increase in the density of burrows is an important effect of prairie dogs’ grazing, because there is the limited shelter from abiotic conditions and predators. The burrows provide the critical refuge for surface dwelling organisms due to limited vegetative cover.

Prairie dogs have the different effects on short grass steppes from the highly productive grasslands. For example, they clip large shrubs. This clipping reduces the suitability of habitat for vertebrates that need some vertical covers (Markle, 2008). In summary, the evaluation of existing of the scientific evidence indicates that the impacts prairie dogs have on grassland animals are misunderstood. The activities of prairie dogs on grasslands that are not colonized increase the number of vertebrates, such as grasshoppers, mice, and horned larks. In contrasts, the same activities reduce the density of arthropods. Though prairie dogs have met the persecution and elimination from communities due to the lack of necessary knowledge of their benefits, these dogs are very fundamental for the biodiversity and ecosystems. People eliminate prairie dogs because of their poor reputation as agricultural and range pests. Environmentalists have labeled prairie dogs as the keystone species due to the fundamental effect they have on the biological diversity. They also argue that saving prairie dogs relates to saving the key prairie ecosystem component, including the decline of grassland species that depend on prairie dogs (Murphy, 2004).

The struggle between the people obligated to the preservation of the natural ecosystems and the agricultural community emphasizes on the plight facing prairie dogs. Ranchers have genuine concerns over the concerns of these rodents as they have the ability to destroy rangelands. Ecologically, it would be difficult to imagine the presence of these dogs that would have no effect on the lands and other organisms. The paper has indicated that prairie dogs have significant effects on community dynamics, plant productivity, and nutrient cycling. In addition, they play the keystone roles in the ecosystem. If the government and rangers destroy prairie dogs in Northern Colorado, there will be grave effects on ecosystems. The soils will lack the nutrients as these rodents help in recycling nutrients back to the soil. Additionally, other mammals, bird, and animals that prey on prairie dogs will lack food. Prairie dogs are prey to predators such as prairie rattlesnakes and black-footed ferrets, their burrows act as the shelters for vertebrates including burrowing owls and tiger salamanders (Slobodchikoff, 2009).

Additionally, they reduce the vegetation structure and plant species composition, developing open habitats for other mammals. Their activities also affect processes of the ecosystems such as nutrient cycling and disturbances. Because of the poor ecological and soil condition of Northern Colorado, it would be disastrous if the government or farmers eliminate prairie dogs. Though they cause some amount of harm, their long term benefits outweigh the effects. Prairie dogs are the species that the government needs to conserve, not only for their ecological values, but for their uniqueness and beauty too. The species is already facing its extinction, and if the government fails to put some efforts to curb their elimination, prairie dogs will soon be faced out. In addition to the conservation strategies, the government should also prevent plaque and flooding, which are capable of facing a large number of these dogs within a short time. Educating farmers on the benefits will also be helpful in ensuring that prairie dogs remain on earth for a longer time.

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