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Tallgrass Prairie Ecosystems

Prairie is a general term for several types of grass-dominated ecosystems. Prairie is a type of grassland dominated by herbaceous plants, with trees either absent or only widely scattered on the landscape.

Tallgrass prairie ecosystems, once one of our Nation's most diverse terrestrial ecosystems, has become functionally non-existent over the last 150 years. The original tallgrass prairie, which extended from western Indiana to the eastern part of Kansas, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota and south to Oklahoma and Texas, has been virtually eliminated throughout its historic range. Recent surveys suggest that 82.6 to 99.9 percent declines in the acreage of tallgrass prairie have occurred in twelve states and one Canadian province since European settlement. Loss and fragmentation of prairie landscapes combined with changes in natural processes have had negative consequences for many grassland plants and associated animals.

Photo of prairie flowers in bloom - Photo credit:  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Until the 1950's, many remnant prairie tracts were surrounded by agricultural grasslands (haylands/pasture) which helped support their natural structure and function. Today, few of these agricultural grasslands remain, causing many prairie remnants to become islands surrounded by row-crop fields and other development. Much of the remaining tallgrass prairie habitat is highly fragmented and dominated by human activity (the process by which habitats are broken up into smaller isolated parcels is called habitat fragmentation). Without proper management, these areas will continue to degrade due to their size, isolation, absence of natural processes such as fire and hydrologic cycle maintenance, and inadequate buffers protecting them from surrounding agricultural and urban land uses.

To learn more about tallgrass prairie ecosystems, visit these sites:

Last updated: August 6, 2015