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Keystone Species?
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Why Should We Care About the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog?

By: Edward (Yao-Wen) Cheng

The black-tailed prairie dog was once one of the most populous mammals in North America, occupying millions of hectares of prairie land. As more and more prairie land has been converted to agricultural land and living space for humans, however, population numbers and range for the black-tailed prairie dog has decreased precipitously. While the decrease in population is inevitably a consequence of increasing numbers of people, black-tailed prairie dogs are victims of a widespread misconception that their activities are detrimental to the grazing of cattle. As a result, they are often poisoned on a massive scale and shot to death by farmers. It doesn’t help that the killing of black-tailed prairie dogs is often times condoned by state governments, and bids to make them listed as “threatened” under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Act have failed. This website explores the effects that humans have had on the black-tailed prairie dog, as well as the ecological effects of losing, what researchers have often dubbed, a keystone species in North American prairie lands.