Papers in the Biological Sciences


Date of this Version

Fall 2002


Published in Great Plains Research 12:2 (Fall 2002): 195-96. Copyright by the Center for Great Plains Studies.


In this Dialogue, Dallas Virchow and Scott Hygnstrom challenge the present, widely held view that the numbers of black-tailed prairie dogs have declined significantly in post-settlement times. Using quotes and numbers from historical accounts of the occurrence of the prairie dog by the early explorers and settlers, they build a case that occurrence and abundance of the prairie dog in the shortgrass prairies and midgrass regions to the west of the tallgrass region in the Great Plains cannot be used to estimate the presettlement abundance of the species in tallgrass areas. They argue that the activities of early settlers, including the introduction of domestic livestock, actually increased habitat for the black-tailed prairie dog. If this occurred before most estimates of early prairie dog abundances, then those numbers likely overestimate pre-settlement abundance, specifically in the tallgrass region of the Great Plains.