Environmentalists have labeled prairie dogs as 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 the prairie dogs in Northern Colorado. The prairie dogs have come under attack from farmers and rangers due to the competition for vegetation. Due to lack of appropriate information, people as well as the government has over the years endangered the existence of these dogs by trying to eliminate. The paper looks at the consequences of this elimination, by emphasizing the roles of the prairie dogs in grasslands. It also looks at historical studies on 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 stand in case it eliminates these dogs. Instead of eliminating the prairie dogs, the paper encourages the government to offer incentives to farmers who preserve their lands for these rodents.
Northern Colorado contains much of gentle slopes with short bushes and shrubs, which roll the plains in the Colorado Plateau. The ecological system in this place support 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 replenish 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 biological value that is intrinsic to the environment. If we are able to identify species with potential benefits to our ecosystems and utilize this information while developing 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 livestock production. They have used these arguments to justify programs that the government sponsors to help eradicate prairie dogs. Surveyors have historically exaggerated the possible amount of land that the prairie dogs occupy, though research indicates that the 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 response, environmentalists argue that these programs are not only economically costly, but also ecologically costly because many species depend on the prairie dogs as well as the activities of the dogs. Environmentalists have linked the decline of black-footed forests to the government’s control programs. Because of this, they carried out 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 to 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 federal protection of the dogs under the act of endangered species. They argued that the government should make similar commitments to the protection of prairie dogs as it has made to other animals. Education will also help farmers and other people knowledgeable about the benefits of prairie dogs, thereby help 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 the 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 the dogs feeding on 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 turn compensates for forage production losses. In other words, prairie dogs grazing favor the growth of sort vegetation instead of taller grasses. In addition, burrows offer refuge for shrubs and forbs, hence modifying 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. 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 prairie dog ecosystem sustains a big number of small arthropods and mammals. Additionally, the consequences these dogs on species vary in different grasslands.
When prairie dogs graze and burrow, they cause disturbances, which affect various ecosystem level processes. By grazing, they affect vegetation structure as they decrease vegetation height and cover as well as reduce the composition of plant composition. Their burrowing also influences nitrogen-cycling rates, leading to 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 variations in structure, quality and composition of vegetation among the patches. Their general activities influence patch dynamics as well as contribute to the heterogeneity of the overall landscape. The climatic variability and fire are impacts of disturbances that prairie dogs cause. Prairie dogs create 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 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 on 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 lack of adequate information on the methods of analysis. Dogs also have an impact on the structure of the community as it increases the species richness. While studies suggest that these dogs usually increase the richness, this fact is questionable because sometimes they decrease it, especially at the individual colonies scale. In small mammal colonies, there may be species richness compared to the un-colonized areas.
Conversely, the richness in plant species is closely related to the degree of prairie dog disturbances. Floral species richness is 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 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 established colonies, pronghorn forage preferentially in places where dwarfs and forbs are abundant. Bison on the other hand, concentrate on newly colonized because grazing influences the grasses’ nutritive value. Prairies dog colonies are concentrated in places in 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 uncolonized regions. Prairie dogs also effect on the population of rabbits, as the rabbits’ diets is mainly grasslands. Because the 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 that dwell in foliage had a higher biomass in areas with no prairie dogs, compared to those in colonies.
Additionally, there are reports that indicate seasonal variance in densities of macro arthropods placed in prairie dog’s pitfalls. This was similar to the macro arthropods in nearby grasslands. Prairie dogs also provide crucial habitat for burrowing owls and mountain plovers. To demonstrate the impacts of prairie dogs on bird density, (Patent & Munoz, 1999) carried out a study the relationship of the two species. The study realized that there was a higher avian density in prairie dog colonies than in the 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 limited vegetation. Most of the species that the study 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 the black-tailed prairie dogs. Prairie dogs’ epizootics usually occur sporadically, with 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 include direct contact and fleabites from an infected host. Because prairie dogs play the same key stone roles in their habitat, ecologists and environmentalist argue for federal protection of the species. However, our understanding of their effects emanates from mixed-grass prairie studies. In 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 by dense vegetation and moderate slopes (Barko, 1996).
In addition, plaque or flooding increase the chances of extinction of prairie dogs. Grazing in mixed prairie leads to invasion of shrubs and forbs, which is unhealthy for the soil. Conversely, grazing in short grass steppe decreases plant diversity. Because of this, vegetation structure and species of plant composition is not different among prairie dog colonies. Similar to the mixed prairie, variations in soils, topography and land use naturally fragment short grass steppe. The consequence of this is that the fauna in these lands becomes less sensitive to the grazing of the prairie dogs, while the mixed prairie becomes inhabitable (Mills, Soule & Doak, 1997).
Though there are benefits of the short grass steppe as a residence for the dogs, there are limited knowledge of how the grazing of prairie dogs in these grasslands affects other animals. Studies of Northern Colorado indicate that the abundance of mammals in 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 limited shelter from abiotic conditions and predators. The burrows provide critical refuge for surface dwelling organisms due to limited vegetative cover.
Prairie dogs have different effect on short grass steppe from the highly productive grasslands. For example, they clip large shrubs. This clipping reduces the suitability of habitat for vertebrates that need vertical cover (Markle, 2008). In summary, the evaluation of existing scientific evidence indicates that the impacts prairie dogs have on grassland animals are misunderstood. The activities of prairie dogs in grasslands that are not colonized increase the number of vertebrates such as grasshoppers, mice and horned larks. In contrasts, the same activities in reduce the density of arthropods. Though prairie dogs have met persecution and elimination from communities due to lack of necessary knowledge on their benefits, these dogs are very fundamental for biodiversity and ecosystems. People eliminate prairie dogs because of their poor reputation as agricultural and range pests. Environmentalists have labeled prairie dogs keystone species due to the fundamental effect they have on biological diversity. They also argue that saving prairie dogs relates to saving key prairie ecosystem component, including the decline of grassland species that depend on prairie dogs (Murphy, 2004).
The struggle between the people who are obligated to the preservation of the natural ecosystems and the agricultural community emphasize 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 e presence of these dogs 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 keystone roles in the ecosystem. If the government and rangers destroy the prairie dogs in Northern Colorado, there will be grave effects on ecosystems. The soils will lack 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 shelters for vertebrates including burrowing owls and tiger salamanders (Slobodchikoff, 2009).
Additionally, they reduce 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 an amount of the harm, their long term benefits outweigh the effects. Prairie dogs are 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 extinction, and if the government fails to put 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 their benefits will also be helpful in ensuring that the prairie dogs remain on earth for a longer time.