SBU Post-Doctoral Research Fellow In Ecology And Evolution Publishes First Book Detailing Life Of Prairie Dogs
Ecologically important animal needs saving, book states
STONY BROOK, NY, May 28, 2009 – Jennifer L. Verdolin, a postdoctoral research fellow at SBU, has published her first book–Prairie Dogs: Communication and Community in an Animal Society. Verdolin co-authored the book along with Con Slobodchikoff, a professor of biology at Northern Arizona University, and Bianca S. Perla, who has a doctorate in ecology from the University of Washington.
In this book, just released by Harvard University Press, prairie dogs, once considered the scourge of the West, get a new image. Long considered pests and vermin, prairie dogs have been poisoned and exterminated for more than 100 years, to the point where they are now reduced to about one percent of the range they occupied in 1900.
Verdolin explains that there are several groups of people who for many reasons have killed prairie dogs over the years: ranchers, recreational shooters and developers. “The ranchers erroneously claim that prairie dogs eat all the grass, so they poison them, mostly on public federal lands, often paid for by U.S. taxpayers,” says Verdolin. “The recreational shooters shoot them indiscriminately for target practice. This is supported, endorsed and often encouraged by state wildlife agencies. Developers usually just bulldoze over and bury alive entire colonies of prairie dogs,” Verdolin adds.
Nicole Rosmarino, Ph.D., Wildlife Program Director of WildEarth Guardians says “This book is a call to action on behalf of prairie dogs, a swiftly declining but ecologically vital genus. It urges scientists, policymakers, and the rest of us to prevent the collapse of dwindling prairie dog ecosystems and imbeds prairie dog imperilment in the broader global extinction crisis. Slobodchikoff and his co-authors blend science with conscience, giving us a well-researched glimpse into the varied and fascinating world we risk losing if we don’t alter course.”
Prairie dogs are also a lot more sophisticated than we give them credit for, the book states. The authors state that they have the most sophisticated natural animal language that has been decoded so far. They have different calls for different predators, and can even incorporate information about the size, shape, and color of a predator. Their communication system is more complicated than that found in chimps, whales, and dolphins. Their social system resembles human societies, living in small territorial groups and defending the boundaries against other groups.
Verdolin became interested in prairie dogs when she was pursuing her masters in biology at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ. “From that moment I was hooked,” Verdolin says. “They are an enigmatic, incredibly social (and entertaining) species to watch and there are so many interesting behavioral questions that one can answer by studying them. I also quickly became concerned with their status. They were not (and still basically are not) protected and I was appalled by the way that they are slaughtered across their range. They are so important ecologically and it is alarming how little protection they are afforded. Numbers are declining rapidly and I, along with my co-authors, am deeply concerned. It is our hope that this book will educate and motivate large numbers of people to press for prairie dog conservation.”
Verdolin currently lives in Port Jefferson and is a postdoctoral research fellow at Stony Brook University.
To place orders for the book, contact:
Harvard University Press, Customer Service Department, 79 Garden St., Cambridge, MA 02138; 800-405-1619; www.hup.harvard.edu.
To arrange a book signing or interview, contact the authors at the following email