Zoo, university dig into prairie dog mystery
Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo and the Biology Department at Fairfield University are teaming up to solve an underground mystery.
Staff from the two organizations are using ground penetrating radar to map the maze of burrows that’s home to the zoo’s two black-tailed prairie dog colonies. According to a news release from the zoo, the experiment grew out of an encounter between Ashley Byun, Fairfield University’s associate professor of biology and Brian Jones, state archaeologist.
Ground penetrating radar mapping equipment was brought to the zoo by Jones.
Rope lines and colored flags identified a path for the radar equipment to follow, corresponding to careful measurements of the burrows beneath the ground. The GPR equipment was guided over the uneven terrain on a wheeled cart.
“We’ve been tracking the prairie dog colony for three years now,” said Byun in a news release. “We’ve tried a lot of different ways to figure out the different burrow connections and the population dynamics in the colony.” Byun explained that a side view of the burrows would be available immediately, but the data would be uploaded into a program to provide 3-D images for closer study. A previous study by University students resulted in identifying the cause of periodic aggressive behavior by the prairie dogs, caused by the existence of two separate colonies living side by side in the exhibit.
Zoo Director Gregg Dancho said the zoo benefited greatly from the radar study, and explained, “Collaborations between our Zoo and institutions of higher learning and State agencies add to our understandings of our natural world.”