Key to the prairie: how one small species affects an entire grassland ecosystem

This story was written for J360F: Portfolio, and includes infographics, interactives, vidoes, and a photo gallery. View the entire story here.

Over 100 years ago, one Texas town stretched across 25,000 square miles of the Panhandle plains, and housed a population nearly 200 times the size of Houston’s. The 400 million residents of this town rose and retired early, kissed each other by way of greeting, and shared their homes with animals of all kinds.

But these were not human settlers; they were black-tailed prairie dogs, chubby herbivorous rodents known for their extensive networks of burrows and hailed as the “chicken McNuggets of the grasslands.

Their colonies, called towns, still dot the Texas prairie today. But since the early 1900s, the black-tailed prairie dog population has declined by over 95 percent, as the millions of acres they once covered dwindled due to agriculture and development. Now, the area of land occupied by prairie dogs hovers around two million acres across the entire Great Plains region.

Continue reading here.

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