Parallel Conservation Issues on Opposite Sides of the Earth: Montana Prairie Dogs and Tibetan Pikas

Scientific Disciplines
Biological Sciences - Terrestrial
nature & environment
missoula, montana
University of Montana
University Montana Missoula Montana
black-footed ferret
black-tailed prairie dog
tibetan sand fox
prairie dog
Tibetan Pikas
prairie dogs
conservation issues
montana prairie dog
Volume 16, No. 4

Parallel conservation issues on opposite sides of the earth: 
montana prairie dogs and tibetan pikas 

Richard B. Harris,* Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Science, University of Montana, 
Missoula, Montana 59812
Zhou Jiake, Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59812
Conservation issues often occur in patterns that are replicated spatially as well as 
temporally. While differing in detail as well as in cultural and regulatory background, 
issues surrounding conservation and management of black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys 
ludovicianus) in central Montana resonate strongly on the far side of the world in the case 
of plateau pikas (Ochotona curzoniae) on the Tibetan Plateau, People‚Äôs Republic of China. 
Prairie dogs are well known for their role as ecosystem engineers, facilitating the existence 
of many other species, yet have faced persecution for decades and even now are only 
grudgingly provided acceptance by policy and regulation. Unlike in North America, most 
species of pikas in Asia are steppe dwellers whose presence and burrowing activity provides 
niches for a wealth of other species. Species for which plateau pikas provide needed habitat 
features vary from insects to passerine birds; species that depend on them as food sources 
vary from the small, e.g., (Mustela altaica), to the large (Ursus arctos). Both prairie-dogs 
and pikas have an obligate predator, i.e., black-footed ferrets here, Tibetan foxes (Vulpes 
ferrilata) there. Beginning in the 1950s, Chinese policy called for eradication or reductions 
of plateau pikas, labeling them pests in language similar to that more commonly seen in the 
context of urban rats. Poisoning campaigns have waxed and waned, but government policy 
remains antagonistic to pikas even within nature reserves. Both prairie dogs and plateau pikas 
are keystone species, but neither yet benefits from public policy that prioritizes ecological 
integrity over short-term expediency.