A University of Wyoming study is looking for non-lethal approaches to relocating prairie dogs colonies off ranchlands where they can cause problems for livestock grazing and onto public lands. The prairie dog study is the brainchild of UW Rangeland Ecology student Lauren Connell.
“So what I was interested in doing is seeing if we can first identify how prairie dogs are making their decision as to where to form their new colonies. And if we can leverage that to then do a non-lethal management technique. So could we encourage them to move away from private property and onto public property?”
Connell says on public land, prairie dogs play an important ecological role as prey and landscape engineers. This summer, she’s been broadcasting two kinds of calls and watching to see if it causes the animals to move closer or further away. One is the high pitched alarm call they make to warn off predators.
“Prairie dogs have basically two calls that we recognize and the most common call that everyone knows is the alarm call,” she says. “And that’s when you walk onto a site and they just go crazy, emitting an ee! ee! ee! ee! That’s their alarm call. And we know from research that that call is very complex. There’s an entire language built into it.”
Prairie Dog Alarm Call
The other call is a jump with a yip they make during quiet times.
Prairie Dog Jump-Yip
“So a lot of people in passing won’t have noticed a jump-yip,” Connell says. “But if you just stop and let them quiet down and watch a prairie dog in its natural habitat, just doing its thing, it’s a really cool thing to see.”
UW Rangeland Ecology Student Lauren Connell Captures The Jump-Yip
Connell says she’s studying the response of animals to these calls when recorded and played over speakers. So far, the prairie dogs haven't moved closer or further away in response to the recorded calls, but Connell is working to refine the study. She’s hoping her work might someday help ranchers who want to move prairie dog colonies without killing them.