Of the 2.8 million km2 (1.1 million sq mi) of phibìc American grasslands, about 22% of the is shortgrass prairie. The shortgrass prairie is located in between the Rocky Mountains and also the mixed-grass prairie. It follow me from main Alberta to main Texas, passing with southeast Wyoming and also eastern Colorado come the panhandle of Nebraska and also west Kansas through the high plains in Oklahoma, Texas, and also northern brand-new Mexico. That is not feasible to delineate an exact boundaries because of dynamic and also shifting tree communities.

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Location and distribution:

At 2.8 million km2 (1.1 million sq mi), grasslands room the biggest vegetation development in north America. About 22% that the grassland is shortgrass prairie. The shortgrass prairie is located in between the Rocky Mountains and the mixed-grass prairie. It follow me from central Alberta to main Texas passing through southeast Wyoming and eastern Colorado to the panhandle that Nebraska and west Kansas with the high levels in Oklahoma, Texas, and northern brand-new Mexico. That is not feasible to delineate specific boundaries due to dynamic and shifting plant communities.


Physical characteristics:


The shortgrass prairie occurs in a halfdry climatic zone. That is the driest and warmest of the good Plains grasslands, with cool winters and also warm summers. Median precipitation is around 375 mm (15 in) ranging native 300 mm (12 in) in the north to 600 mm (24 in) in the south. Precipitation occurs in illustration so the a few precipitation events produce the majority of precipitation, through 2/3 of the precipitation emerging during the growing season. The typical temperature is 9°C (48°F) in the north and also 16°C (61°F) in the south. Minimum temperatures space -15°C (5°F) in the north and 4°C (39°F) in the south and maximum temperatures room 18°C (64°F) in the north and also 26°C (79°F) in the south. The growing season ranges from much less than 150 days in the north to end 200 work in the south.


The shortgrass an ar is flat and rolling through mesas and also stream valleys. Rivers that cross the region include the Cimarron, Arkansas, Missouri, and Beaver. Many streams space ephemeral and dry increase in the summer. They have tendency to have sandy/silty beds however may be rocky in some areas.

The soils that the shortgrass prairie are mostly Mollisols, yet Entisols, Vertisols, Aridisols, Alfisols, and also Inceptisols are also present. Overall, the soils are mostly coarse in texture, v the dominant texture gift a good sandy loam. The soils are the result of sedimentary deposits native the Rocky Mountains. Floor profile advancement is minimal and an ext basic than forest soils. The coloring arrays from black color in more mesic locations to brown in halfdry areas.

Current plant Communities

Seventy percent of the shortgrass prairie still stays in herbal vegetation. Big areas that this grassland have been converted to irrigated agriculture, and also many abandoned chop fields native the 1930s have actually been left to revegetate naturally. Plowing this grassland led to permanent floor changes, such as a palliation in floor phosphorus. Some locations have been encroached by honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa var. Glandulosa). This has developed shrubland or savannah-type vegetative frameworks with one understory that shortgrass species. Aboriginal prairie dogs have caused overgrazing result in selection degradation. Yet this may, in part, be the an outcome of anthropogenic transforms (i.e., fragmentation and loss that predators) come prairie dog habitat.

Historic plant Communities

The shortgrass prairie is a fairly young ecosystem, having actually formed between the center Miocene and the beforehand Holocene. It resulted in a gradual shift from semi-open forest with occasional grassy locations to open grasslands with couple of trees, due to components such as increasing aridity, drought, and natural and also anthropogenic fire. As result of the young age, the ecosystem lacks numerous endemic species. It is additionally the least productive of the main plains grasslands.

The region is conquered by shortgrasses such as buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis). These 2 grasses comprise 70-90% the the shortgrass prairie ingredient by weight. Only the many favorable, moister and eastern, website contain tallgrasses together as sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula) and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). Other grass varieties include hairy grama (Bouteloua hirsuta), western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii), muhly grass (Muhlenbergia torreyi) and prairie threeawn (Aristida oligantha). Grasses “cured on the vine” have nutritional value when dormant.


Average aboveground net primary production is separated as follows: 65% graminoids, 13% succulents, 16% dwarf shrubs, and 6% forbs. About 80% that the varieties in the shortgrass prairie exist only in riparian locations which constitute only about 5% the the Area.

Common shrubs and forbs include yucca (Yucca glauca), pricklypear cactus (Opuntia humifusa), prairie zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora), scarlet globemallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea), plains blackfoot (Melampodium leucanthum), slimflower scurfpea (Psoralea tenuiflora), skunkbrush (Rhus aromatic) and also tree cholla (Opuntia immbricata).



Large herbivores include pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra Americana), elk (Cervus canadensis) which is locally extirpated, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and American bison (Bos bison), also locally extirpated. Other mammals incorporate the black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), swift fox (Vulpes velox), mountain lion (Puma concolor), black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) which is endangered, and the northern pocket gopher (Thomomys talpoides).


Birds incorporate the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), mountain plover (Charadrius montanus), bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), whooping crane (Grus Americana), lesser prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus), and northern bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus). Necessary reptiles, amphibians, and insects include the Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum), western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus), plains leopard frog (Rana blairi), northern cricket frog (Acris crepitans), and harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex spp.).

Long-term Trends

The development of an excellent Plains grasslands started 5 come 7 million years ago in the Miocene-Pliocene change with periods of forest/woodland/tundra/ice dominance depending upon climatic cycles and glacial/interglacial periods. The ahead vegetation included temperate and tropical forests, but these decreased due to drier climate and also colder temperatures. The shortgrass prairie the we know today occurred following the retreat the the critical Wisconsin glaciers roughly 10,000 year ago. Many locations were cultivated and then abandoned complying with the Dust Bowl to revegetate earlier to rangeland in the 1940s and also 1950s. Many locations were plowed again in the 1980s.

Yearly and Seasonal Variation

In the shortgrass prairie, major vegetation changes occur because of drought and also grazing pressure and also fire is of secondary importance. The amount and also seasonality of precipitation and temperature an outcome in fluctuations in annual net production. Soils and plant species also influence production. Early on summer climatic problems favor C3 plants but 1 come 1 1/2 months later on the climate favors C4 plants.

Disturbance Factors


Historical fire frequencies in level prairies to be every 5-10 years and 15 come 30 years in prairies reduced by breaks and also streams. Historical fires shed across vast distances but are now restricted by grew lands, roads, and also fire suppression.



Historical fire frequencies in level prairies to be every 5-10 years and also 15 to 30 year in prairies reduced by breaks and also streams. Historical fires burned across vast distances however are now limited by grew lands, roads, and also fire suppression.


Historically, the shortgrass prairie to be grazed by large herds of bison, antelope, deer, and also elk along with colonies that prairie dogs. Other than for prairie dogs, these types were migratory, consistently searching for environment-friendly forage and responding to ecological variables such as precipitation, drought, and fire. This led to rotational grazing that allowed vegetation to recuperate in the absence of the herbivores. It likewise caused repeated seasonal grazing pressures to i beg your pardon the vegetation adapted in the process of herbal selection. Prairie dogs impact the ecosystem v burrowing and also grazing activities and consists of swarms that may cover 10s to numerous hectares.



Other Disturbance Factors

Small-scale disturbances

Burrows cause small-scale disturbances. The piles of soil produced from burrow building and construction can cover and kill entirety or components of plants. Recovery wake up after ceasing burrow construction.

Cattle fecal pats partly or totally kill plants and also reduce plant cover because of the short plant stature in the shortgrass prairie. Recovery only occurs after play decomposition which calls for 2 years. Fecal pats can create source gaps for undamaged seeds deposited through fecal matter.

Harvester ant swarms clear vegetation native areas approximately their nests and also collect foraged seeds underground. Abandoned nest sites space highly colonized by annual plant species. Furthermore, aboveground biomass is higher in the ring bordering the colony most likely due to increased water availability

June beetle larvae (Phyllophaga fimbripes) feeding on perennial plant roots, bring about plant mortality. Job killed range from 2 to 8 m in diameter and outbreaks occur periodically.


During the summer, atmospheric conditions are optimal because that slow relocating storms. The shortgrass prairie is prone to speed flooding, and also the storms can develop hail and tornadoes. This area experiences particularly high frequency of big hailstones. Storms and also their associated effects reason crop damage and endanger livestock and also people.

Dust storms

Dust storms space natural and occur commonly during dried years. The Dust bowl of the 1930s occurred throughout the an excellent Plains during a 22 year dryness cycle. It consisted of the many severe dust storms ~ above record and also blame was put on sod busters that plowed up the prairie. It resulted in plenty of lands being inserted under the Conservation to make reservation Program.


The absence of fire in the shortgrass prairie results in part dramatic vegetation changes. Lack of fire facilitates woody plant encroachment and also exotic invasions, resulting in detrimental alterations to indigenous plant communities and also habitat because that wildlife.

Prescribed fire is a advantageous management tool for vegetation management. However, that comes through some management comes to such together the public’s are afraid of fire, the challenges of exhilaration management, and facility liability issues. Services of appropriately and wisely-used prescribed fires include intensified biodiversity, suppressed woody encroachment, fire risk reduction, enhanced forage because that livestock, raised soil fertility, and also improved wildlife habitat. Fire suppression activities cause fuel buildup and also increase both the intensity and also danger that wildfires.


The shortgrass prairie is the third most necessary western range type for breed boy production. As drought is a significant disturbance, stocking rates throughout a drought period are of the utmost importance. If a range manager chooses not to destock the land, maintenance feeding through a complete diet may be required throughout drought conditions because the livestock are no able to make use of the staying forage that is also short. Thus, the influence of grazing top top the selection during the dryness is largely because of adverse impacts from trampling and dunging. Complying with the drought, restore is influenced by detrimental grazing i beg your pardon overuses recovering tree species. If range managers choose to destock, they should pay for dry lot feeding and transportation or market their livestock.


Woody plant Encroachment

Woody plants are promoted over grasses by transforms in rainfall, lack of fire, and also overgrazing. Due to the fact that encroaching woody tree use easily accessible water, the grass cover i do not care patchier and less most likely to carry a fire, leading to a self-reinforcing cycle of woody plant increases and grass sheathe reduction. Honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) is among the major encroaching woody species in the shortgrass prairie.


Invasive Species

Invasive varieties exploit disturbances led to by excessive grazing and trampling, poor grazing, and fire. They deserve to reduce forage quality and quantity, to decrease biodiversity, and also alter ecosystem function. However, the shortgrass prairie is extremely resistant to invasion, and cattle grazing is one effective method of controlling spread of some invasive plants. Usual invasives include cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), russian thistle (Salsola iberica), saltcedar (Tamarix spp.), fireweed (Kochia scoparia), old world bluestems (Bothriochloa spp.), crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum), Japanese brome (Bromus japonicus), yellow sweetclover (Melilotus officinalis) and spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe).


Due to a myriad the land monitoring practices, the shortgrass prairie is very fragmented. Because that example, cultivation only offers 42% the the good Plains area yet fragments 100% that the area. Fragmentation to reduce habitat quality and also quantity, impedes the fire regime, and also is severely detrimental to biodiversity. Population growth outcomes in exurban advance which causes habitat loss and increases the number of domestic predators, such together dogs and cats. It likewise facilitates the spread of exotic species.

Water Quality

Water in the shortgrass prairie region suffers native both quality and quantity issues. Pollution from agriculture, confined animal feeding work (CAFOs), oil development, and other resources impair water quality. Reservoirs, channelization, impoundments, and also withdrawal threaten flow regimes and riparian habitats. Grazing livestock likewise contribute come riparian area degradation. The fallout’s water table and urbanization may reduce irrigation in donate of urban water demands.

The shortgrass prairie is well-suited because that both beef cattle and also sheep production, but sheep production is decreasing in the area. Beef cattle production is important but only 1% the the United claims beef cattle population grazes in the shortgrass prairie.

Grazing administration Practices

Forage Sources and Seasonal Use

Supplementation v protein, minerals and energy is forced from November till summer. Supplements encompass hay, energy and protein feedstuffs. Maintenance feeding may be necessary during drought years.

Fourwing saltbrush (Atriplex canescens) is advantageous when grazed in late autumn or early on spring because it is of great quality at this time and also extends grazing season. Other complementary forages incorporate Bozoisky wildrye and Hycrest wheatgrass.

Grazing Systems

Grazing is the dominant use the the shortgrass prairie’s natural vegetation. The is a sustainable exercise at light to middle stocking rates. In general, constant grazing systems room superior come rotational grazing in terms of vegetative productivity and individual breed cub performance. Livestock in constant grazing systems usually carry out not need hay, but cattle may require protein supplement in winter. Rotational grazing is practiced on some ranches.

Poisonous Plants

Poisonous plants of the shortgrass prairie include broadleaf milkweed (Asclepias latifolia), locoweed (Astragalus spp.), larkspur (Delphinium spp.), bitterweed (Hymenoxys odorata), and sacahuista (Nolina texana).


Dryland farming may be successful during good years however is at some point unsuccessful because of extended droughts. Over there are numerous abandoned chop fields native the 1930s Dust bowl that have actually been left come revegetate naturally. Watering can an outcome in high levels of crop productivity. The major dryland chop is wheat, and also the major irrigated crops are corn, soybeans, alfalfa, street beets, and also cotton.


Commercial Hunting and also Recreation

The adhering to game species are commercially hunted: white-tailed deer, raccoon, squirrel, bobwhite quail, and also mourning dove. Various other recreation avenues are fishing, hiking, bird watching, photography, and also bicycling.

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Not enough is recognized to predict as whole restoration job successes on lengthy time scales in the shortgrass prairie. For any kind of restoration project, that is recommended to emphasize a diverse mixture of native grasses and forbs, to know the nature the the landscape, and to be aware of the inherent function of grazing top top the prairie. Reseeded locations have a 30-50 year recovery duration and need inputs to attain necessary amounts of necessary matter, carbon, and also nitrogen. In these projects, the is essential to consider spatial heterogeneity to recognize which varieties to plant.