Black-tailed prairie dogs are a keystone species in prairie and steppe ecosystems, where they influence soil nutrient cycling, create habitat via burrowing, enhance the diversity of the plant community and serve as prey items for numerous carnivores. However, little is known about their role in urban settings.
For almost 10 years, we have studied black-tailed prairie dogs in a highly urban habitat in Denver and Boulder, Colorado. These studies have included determining new methods for estimating prairie dog population size as well as assessing the impact of urbanization on prairie dog behavior, genetics, body condition and interactions with plant species.
We have also worked with colleagues to measure the impact of urban prairie dogs on bird species and evaluate human attitudes towards these important animals. The culmination of this research was a project determining which urban habitats are most suitable for prairie dogs—an effort with enormous implications for conserving and managing this species. Among other findings, this project determined that undisturbed colonies seem able to persist in urban areas, with no evidence of starvation, disease or genetic problems.