IALC Peace Fellowship Report
Senior Undergraduate Student
of the Negev, Israel
Ecology and Restoration of Black-tailed Prairie
in Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands
Title of Project: Ecology and restoration of black-tailed prairie dogs
in Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands
(this was not a previously funded IALC project)
During the month of October 2002, I visited New Mexico State University,
and worked with Dr. Mark Andersen and his graduate student, Heather Adams.
Note: Dr. Anderson was previously funded by the IALC.
The research in which I participated was on activity budgets of the
black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), and was conducted at
the Armendaris Ranch in the Chihuahuan desert, about 100 miles north
to the city of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Black-tailed prairie dogs have lived throughout large parts of North
America from Canada to Mexico. However, in the last two centuries, their
number declined dramatically, and today the species is considered uncommon,
and has become extinct from many of its former range.
The main reasons for the decline in numbers were mainly habitat loss,
and hunting. These animals were considered pests by farmers, and lots
of money and efforts were used in the attempt to eradicate them, by the
government as well as private farmers.
In the last decades, the considerable influence of the black-tailed
prairie dog on its habitat was recognized, and it was declared a key-stone
Prairie dogs change their environment both passively and actively. They
cut tall grass around their colonies to reduce coverage for predators,
and cause shifts in plant community because they eat only certain plants.
It has been shown that bison and cattle prefer to graze near prairie
dogs colonies, probably because the vegetation there is more palatable
and nutritious. The combination of feeding and cutting by prairie dogs,
and grazing by bison, helps maintain the plant community and the ecosystem,
in a grassland state, and prevents invasion by plants from neighboring
habitats, such as shrubland, and woodland.
In 1999, 150 prairie dogs were reintroduced to the Armendaris with the
goal of modifying their habitat, and thereby allow the existence of many
species that utilize prairie dogs and their colonies, such as the burrowing
owl, aplomado falcon, ferruginous hawk, swift fox, and the black-footed
ferret. Most of the prairie dogs have survived at their new home, but
many have died. This has proved that there is still a great need for
knowledge on their biology and ecology in order to provide guidelines
for restoration of prairie dogs and their habitats.
The research in which I participated focuses on the behavior of the
prairie dogs, mainly on changes in their activity budgets, between seasons,
sexes, and ages.
During the month I spent in New Mexico, I helped in the field in trapping,
measuring, and marking the animals, and in doing behavioral observations.
I also got a chance to improve my GIS skills, by working with people
from the Department of Fishery and Wildlife, who work in that field.
I also got a chance to join field trips, and to see many of the native
animals and plants.
It was very interesting for me, coming from the Negev desert in Israel
to a different desert, and to see the similarities and differences between
the two areas. One very beautiful (and at first, strange) phenomenon
is the abundance of Cacti species, completely absent in old world deserts.
It was a great and horizons broadening experience to spend time in
a university in a foreign country. I have learned a lot, and had
the chance to meet and interact with researchers and graduate students.
One of the things I came to realize was the importance of nature resources,
and wildlife management. In Israel, these areas are not developed enough,
and I hope I can contribute in that field, in the future.
I will recommend anyone to be a Peace Fellow; it is a great opportunity
to learn about ecological research, to learn new concepts, and to meet
I am very grateful to Dr. Mark Andersen and to all the people at the
Department of Fishery and Wildlife Sciences, for their kind hospitality