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Prairies are
ecosystem An ecosystem (or ecological system) consists of all the organisms and the physical environment with which they interact. These biotic and abiotic components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Energy enters the syst ...

ecosystem
s considered part of the
temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands is a terrestrial biome defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is an international non-governmental organization founded in 1961 that works in the field ...
biome A biome is a collection of plants Plants are predominantly photosynthetic Photosynthesis is a process used by plants and other organisms to Energy transformation, convert light energy into chemical energy that, through cellular respi ...
by ecologists, based on similar temperate climates, moderate rainfall, and a composition of grasses, herbs, and shrubs, rather than trees, as the dominant
vegetation type Vegetation classification is the process of classifying and mapping the vegetation Vegetation is an assemblage of plant Plants are predominantly photosynthetic eukaryotes of the Kingdom (biology), kingdom Plantae. Historically, the plant k ...
. Temperate grassland regions include the
Pampas The Pampas (from the qu, pampa, meaning "plain") are fertile South America South America is a continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any str ...

Pampas
of
Argentina Argentina (), officially the Argentine Republic ( es, link=no, República Argentina), is a country located mostly in the southern half of South America South America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasse ...

Argentina
,
Brazil Brazil ( pt, Brasil; ), officially the Federative Republic of Brazil (Portuguese: ), is the largest country in both South America and Latin America. At 8.5 million square kilometers (3.2 million square miles) and with over 211 mill ...

Brazil
and
Uruguay Uruguay (; ; pt, Uruguai), officially the Oriental Republic of Uruguay ( es, República Oriental del Uruguay), is a country in South America. It shares borders with Argentina to its west and southwest and Brazil to its north and northeast; whi ...

Uruguay
, and the
steppe In physical geography, a steppe () is an ecoregion characterized by grassland plains without trees apart from those near rivers and lakes. Steppe biomes may include: * the montane grasslands and shrublands biome * the temperate grassland ...

steppe
of
Ukraine Ukraine ( uk, Україна, Ukraïna, ) is a country in . It is the in Europe after , which it borders to the east and north-east. Ukraine also shares borders with to the north; , , and to the west; and to the south; and has a coastli ...

Ukraine
,
Russia Russia ( rus, link=no, Россия, Rossiya, ), or the Russian Federation, is a country spanning Eastern Europe Eastern Europe is the eastern region of . There is no consistent definition of the precise area it covers, partly because th ...

Russia
and
Kazakhstan Kazakhstan ( kk, Қазақстан, Qazaqstan; russian: Казахстан, Kazakhstan), officially the Republic of Kazakhstan,; russian: Республика Казахстан, Respublika Kazakhstan, link=no) is a country located mainly in ...

Kazakhstan
. Lands typically referred to as "prairie" tend to be in
North America North America is a continent A continent is any of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any strict criteria, up to seven geographical regions are commonly regarded as continen ...

North America
. The term encompasses the area referred to as the Interior Lowlands of
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its Provinces and territories of Canada, ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, Pacific and northward into the Arctic Oce ...

Canada
, the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country Continental United States, primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 U.S. state, states, a Washington, D.C., ...

United States
, and
Mexico Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country A country is a distinct territorial body or political entity A polity is an identifiable political entity—any group of people who have a collective identity, who are organi ...

Mexico
, which includes all of the
Great Plains The Great Plains (french: Grandes Plaines), sometimes simply "the Plains", is a broad expanse of in . It is located west of the and east of the , much of it covered in , and . It is the southern and main part of the , which also include the ...
as well as the wetter, hillier land to the east. In the U.S., the area is constituted by most or all of the states of
North Dakota North Dakota () is a U.S. state In the , a state is a , of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a , each state holds al jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory where it shares its with the . Due to th ...
,
South Dakota South Dakota () (Sioux The Sioux or Oceti Sakowin (; Dakota Dakota may refer to: * Dakota people, a sub-tribe of the Sioux ** Dakota language, their language From this origin, Dakota may also refer to: Places United States * Dakot ...

South Dakota
,
Nebraska Nebraska () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Nebraska
,
Kansas Kansas () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. Its Capital city, capital is Topeka and its largest city is Wichita, Kansas, Wichita. Kansas is a landlocked state bordered by Nebraska to the north; ...

Kansas
, and
Oklahoma Oklahoma () is a U.S. state, state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States, bordered by the state of Texas on the south and west, Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, New ...
, and sizable parts of the states of
Montana Montana () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Montana
,
Wyoming Wyoming () is a U.S. state, state in the Mountain states, Mountain West subregion of the Western United States. The List of U.S. states and territories by area, 10th largest state by area, it is also the List of U.S. states and territories b ...
,
Colorado Colorado (, other variants) is a state in the Mountain West The Mountain West Conference (MW) is one of the collegiate athletic conferences affiliated with the National Collegiate Athletic Association The National Collegiate Athletic ...

Colorado
,
New Mexico ) , population_demonym = New Mexican ( es, Neomexicano, Neomejicano, Nuevo Mexicano) , seat = Santa Fe , LargestCity = Albuquerque , LargestMetro = Greater Albuquerque , OfficialLang = None , Languages = English English usually refer ...

New Mexico
,
Texas Texas (, ; Spanish language, Spanish: ''Texas'', ''Tejas'') is a state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States. At 268,596 square miles (695,662 km2), and with more than 29.1 million residents in 2020, ...

Texas
,
Missouri Missouri is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in ...

Missouri
,
Iowa Iowa () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States, bordered by the Mississippi River to the east and the Missouri River and Big Sioux River to the west. It is bordered by six states: Wiscon ...

Iowa
,
Illinois Illinois ( ) is a in the region of the . Of the fifty U.S. states, it has the , population, and the . is the state's largest city and the fifth with the capital in , located in the center of the state; other major metropolitan areas in ...

Illinois
,
Indiana Indiana () is a U.S. state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. It is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 38th-largest by area and the List of U.S. states and territories by population, 17th-most populous o ...

Indiana
,
Wisconsin Wisconsin () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Wisconsin
, and western and southern
Minnesota Minnesota () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Minnesota
. The
Palouse The Palouse ( ) is a distinct geographic region of the northwestern United States, encompassing parts of north central Idaho, southeastern Washington, and, by some definitions, parts of northeast Oregon Oregon () is a state in the Pa ...

Palouse
of
Washington Washington commonly refers to: * Washington (state), United States * Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States ** Federal government of the United States (metonym) ** Washington metropolitan area, the metropolitan area centered on Washingt ...
and the Central Valley of
California California is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper i ...

California
are also prairies. The
Canadian Prairies The Canadian Prairies (usually referred to as simply the Prairies in Canada) is a region in Western Canada Western Canada, also referred to as the Western Provinces and more commonly known as the West, is a region In geography Geogra ...
occupy vast areas of
Manitoba Manitoba ( ) is a Provinces and territories of Canada, province of Canada at the Centre of Canada, longitudinal centre of the country. It is Canada's Population of Canada by province and territory, fifth-most populous province, with a population o ...

Manitoba
,
Saskatchewan ("From Many Peoples Strength") , image_map = Saskatchewan in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English language, English , capital = Regina, S ...
, and
Alberta ("Strong and free") , image_map = Alberta in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English , capital = Edmonton Edmonton ( ) is the capital ...

Alberta
. Prairies contain various lush
flora Flora is all the plant life present in a particular region or time, generally the naturally occurring (indigenous (ecology), indigenous) native plant, native plants. Sometimes bacteria and fungi are also referred to as flora, as in the terms ' ...

flora
and
fauna Fauna is all of the animal Animals (also called Metazoa) are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the Kingdom (biology), biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals Heterotroph, consume organic material, Cellular r ...

fauna
, often contain rich soil maintained by
biodiversity Biodiversity is the biological variety and Genetic variability, variability of life, life on Earth. Biodiversity is a measure of variation at the Genetics, genetic, species, and ecosystem level. Terrestrial biodiversity is usually greater near ...

biodiversity
, with a
temperate climate In geography Geography (from Ancient Greek, Greek: , ''geographia'', literally "earth description") is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena of the Earth and Solar System, plan ...
and a varied view.


Etymology

According to
Theodore Roosevelt Theodore Roosevelt Jr. ( ; October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919), often referred to as Teddy or his initials T. R., was an American politician, statesman, conservationist, naturalist, historian, and writer who served as the 26th president o ...

Theodore Roosevelt
: ''Prairie'' () is the
French
French
word for "meadow"; the root is the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became ...

Latin
''pratum'' (same meaning).


Formation

The formation of the North American Prairies started with the uplift of the
Rocky Mountains The Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, are a major mountain range A mountain range is a series of mountains ranged in a line and connected by high ground. A mountain system or mountain belt is a group of mountain ranges with similari ...

Rocky Mountains
near
Alberta ("Strong and free") , image_map = Alberta in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English , capital = Edmonton Edmonton ( ) is the capital ...

Alberta
. The mountains created a
rain shadow A rain shadow is an area of significantly reduced rain Rain is liquid water in the form of drop (liquid), droplets that have condensation, condensed from atmosphere, atmospheric water vapor and then precipitation (meteorology), become he ...

rain shadow
that resulted in lower precipitation rates downwind. The
parent material Parent material is the underlying geological material (generally bedrock or a superficial deposits, superficial or drift (geology), drift deposit) in which soil horizons form. Soils typically inherit a great deal of structure and minerals from the ...
of most prairie soil was distributed during the last glacial advance that began about 110,000 years ago. The glaciers expanding southward scraped the landscape, picking up geologic material and leveling the terrain. As the glaciers retreated about 10,000 years ago, they deposited this material in the form of
till image:Geschiebemergel.JPG, Closeup of glacial till. Note that the larger grains (pebbles and gravel) in the till are completely surrounded by the matrix of finer material (silt and sand), and this characteristic, known as ''matrix support'', is di ...

till
. Wind based
loess Loess (, ; from German ''Löss'' ) is a clastic, predominantly silt-sized sediment Sediment is a naturally occurring material that is broken down by processes of weathering and erosion, and is subsequently sediment transport, transported by ...
deposits also form an important parent material for prairie soils. Tallgrass prairie evolved over tens of thousands of years with the disturbances of grazing and fire. Native
ungulate Ungulates ( ) are members of the diverse Ungulata which primarily consists of large mammals with . These include s such as s, es, and s; and s such as , s, s, s, , , and es. s such as , , and are also classified as even-toed ungulates, althoug ...
s such as
bison Bison are large, even-toed ungulate The even-toed ungulates (Artiodactyla , ) are ungulate Ungulates ( ) are members of the diverse clade A clade (; from grc, , ''klados'', "branch"), also known as a monophyletic group or natural gro ...

bison
,
elk The elk (''Cervus canadensis''), also known as the wapiti, is one of the largest species within the deer Deer or true deer are ed s forming the Cervidae. The two main groups of deer are the , including the , the (wapiti), the , a ...

elk
, and
white-tailed deer The white-tailed deer (''Odocoileus virginianus''), also known as the whitetail or Virginia deer, is a medium-sized deer native to North America, Central America, Ecuador, and South America as far south as Peru and Bolivia. It has also been int ...

white-tailed deer
roamed the expansive, diverse grasslands before
European colonization of the Americas Although the Norse had explored and colonized northeastern North America c. 1000 CE, the later and more well-known wave of European colonization of the Americas took place in the Americas The Americas (also collectively called Americ ...
. For 10,000-20,000 years, native people used fire annually as a tool to assist in hunting, transportation, and safety. Evidence of ignition sources of fire in the tallgrass prairie are overwhelmingly human as opposed to lightning. Humans, and grazing animals, were active participants in the process of prairie formation and the establishment of the diversity of
graminoid In botany Botany, also called , plant biology or phytology, is the science of plant life and a branch of biology. A botanist, plant scientist or phytologist is a scientist who specialises in this field. The term "botany" comes from the An ...

graminoid
and
forb A forb or phorb is a herbaceous Herbaceous plants are vascular plant Vascular plants (from Latin ''vasculum'': duct), also known as Tracheophyta (the tracheophytes , from the Greek ''trācheia''), form a large group of plants ( 300,000 accepte ...
s species. Fire has the effect on prairies of removing
tree In botany, a tree is a perennial plant with an elongated Plant stem, stem, or trunk (botany), trunk, supporting branches and leaves in most species. In some usages, the definition of a tree may be narrower, including only wood plants with se ...

tree
s, clearing dead plant matter, and changing the availability of certain nutrients in the soil from the ash produced. Fire kills the
vascular tissue Vascular tissue is a complex conducting tissue Tissue may refer to: Biology * Tissue (biology), an ensemble of similar cells that together carry out a specific function * ''Triphosa haesitata'', a species of geometer moth found in North Ameri ...
of trees, but not prairie species, as up to 75% (depending on the species) of the total plant
biomass Biomass is plant or animal material used as fuel to produce electricity Electricity is the set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and motion Image:Leaving Yongsan Station.jpg, 300px, Motion involves a change in position ...

biomass
is below the soil surface and will re-grow from its deep (upwards of 20 feet)
root In vascular plant Vascular plants (from Latin ''vasculum'': duct), also known as Tracheophyta (the tracheophytes , from Greek τραχεῖα ἀρτηρία ''trācheia artēria'' 'windpipe' + φυτά ''phutá'' 'plants'), form a large group ...

root
s. Without disturbance, trees will encroach on a grassland and cast shade, which suppresses the
understory In forestry Forestry is the science and craft of creating, managing, planting, using, conserving and repairing forests, woodlands, and associated resources for human and environmental benefits. Forestry is practiced in plantations and na ...
. Prairie and widely spaced
oak An oak is a tree In botany, a tree is a perennial plant with an elongated Plant stem, stem, or trunk (botany), trunk, supporting branches and leaves in most species. In some usages, the definition of a tree may be narrower, including on ...

oak
trees evolved to coexist in the
oak savanna An oak savanna is a type of savanna A savanna or savannah is a mixed woodland-grassland ecosystem characterised by the trees being sufficiently widely spaced so that the Canopy (forest), canopy does not close. The open canopy allows sufficie ...
ecosystem.


Fertility

In spite of long recurrent
drought A drought is an event of prolonged shortages in the water supply, whether atmospheric (below-average precipitation In meteorology Meteorology is a branch of the (which include and ), with a major focus on . The study of meteorolog ...

drought
s and occasional
torrential rains
torrential rains
, the grasslands of the
Great Plains The Great Plains (french: Grandes Plaines), sometimes simply "the Plains", is a broad expanse of in . It is located west of the and east of the , much of it covered in , and . It is the southern and main part of the , which also include the ...
were not subject to great soil
erosion In earth science Earth science or geoscience includes all fields of natural science Natural science is a branch of science Science (from the Latin word ''scientia'', meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that Scientific ...

erosion
. The root systems of native prairie grasses firmly held the soil in place to prevent run-off of soil. When the plant died, the
fungi A fungus (plural The plural (sometimes abbreviated An abbreviation (from Latin ''brevis'', meaning ''short'') is a shortened form of a word or phrase, by any method. It may consist of a group of letters, or words taken from the full ...

fungi
and
bacteria Bacteria (; common noun bacteria, singular bacterium) are ubiquitous, mostly free-living organisms often consisting of one Cell (biology), biological cell. They constitute a large domain (biology), domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typ ...

bacteria
returned its nutrients to the soil. These deep roots also helped native prairie plants reach water in even the driest conditions. Native grasses suffer much less damage from dry conditions than many farm crops currently grown.


Geographical regions

Prairie Wheatfield intersection in the Southern Saskatchewan prairies, Canada. Prairies are ecosystem An ecosystem is a community (ecology), community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interact ...
in North America is usually split into three groups: wet, mesic, and dry. They are generally characterized by
tallgrass prairie The tallgrass prairie is an ecosystem An ecosystem is a community (ecology), community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a system. These Biotic component, biotic and abiotic ...
, mixed, or
shortgrass prairie The shortgrass prairie is an ecosystem located in the Great Plains of North America. The two most dominant grasses in the shortgrass prairie are blue grama (''Bouteloua gracilis'') and buffalograss (''Bouteloua dactyloides''), the two less dominan ...
, depending on the quality of soil and rainfall.


Wet

In wet prairies, the
soil Soil is a mixture In chemistry Chemistry is the science, scientific study of the properties and behavior of matter. It is a natural science that covers the Chemical element, elements that make up matter to the chemical compound, comp ...

soil
is usually very moist, including during most of the growing season, because of poor
water drainage
water drainage
. The resulting
stagnant water Water stagnation occurs when water stops Environmental flow, flowing. Stagnant water can be a major environmental hazard. Dangers Malaria and dengue are among the main dangers of stagnant water, which can become a breeding ground for the mosquito ...
is conducive to the formation of
bog A bog or bogland is a wetland A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded by water, either permanently (for years or decades) or seasonally (for weeks or months). Flooding results in oxygen-free (Anoxic waters, anoxic) processes ...

bog
s and
fen A fen is a type of peat-accumulating wetland A wetland is a distinct ecosystem An ecosystem is a community (ecology), community of living organisms in conjunction with the nonliving components of their environment, interacting as a sy ...

fen
s. Wet prairies have excellent farming soil. The average precipitation is a year.


Mesic

Mesic prairie has good drainage, but good soil during the growing season. This type of prairie is the most often converted for agricultural usage; consequently, it is one of the most endangered types of prairie.


Dry

Dry prairie has somewhat wet to very dry soil during the growing season because of good drainage in the soil. Often, this type of prairie can be found on uplands or slopes. Dry soil usually doesn't get much vegetation due to lack of rain. This is the dominant biome in the Southern Canadian agricultural and climatic region known as
Palliser's Triangle 300px, Map of Palliser's Triangle. Palliser's Triangle, or the Palliser Triangle, is a semi-arid A semi-arid climate, semi-desert climate, or steppe climate is the climate Climate is the long-term average of weather, typically averaged over a pe ...
. Once thought to be completely unarable, the Triangle is now one of the most important agricultural regions in Canada thanks to advances in irrigation technology. In addition to its very high local importance to Canada, Palliser's Triangle is now also one of the most important sources of wheat in the world as a result of these improved methods of watering wheat fields (along with the rest of the Southern prairie provinces which also grow wheat, canola and many other grains). Despite these advances in farming technology, the area is still very prone to extended periods of drought, which can be disastrous for the industry if it is significantly prolonged. An infamous example of this is the
Dust Bowl The Dust Bowl was a period of severe dust storm A dust storm, also called a sandstorm, is a meteorological phenomenon common in arid A region is arid when it is characterized by a severe lack of available water, to the extent o ...
of the 1930s, which also hit much of the United States
Great Plains The Great Plains (french: Grandes Plaines), sometimes simply "the Plains", is a broad expanse of flatland ''Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions'' is a satire, satirical novella by the English schoolmaster Edwin Abbott Abbott, first publi ...
ecoregion, contributing greatly to the
Great Depression The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression An economic depression is a sustained, long-term downturn in economic activity in one or more economies. It is a more severe economic downturn than a economic recession, recess ...
.


Environmental history


Bison hunting

Nomadic hunting has been the main human activity on the prairies for the majority of the archaeological record. This once included many now-extinct species of
megafauna In terrestrial zoology Zoology ()The pronunciation of zoology as is typically regarded as nonstandard, though it is not uncommon. is the branch of biology that studies the animal kingdom, including the anatomy, structure, embryology, evolutio ...

megafauna
. After the other extinctions, the main hunted animal on the prairies was the
plains bison The Plains bison (''Bison bison bison'') is one of two subspecies In Taxonomy (biology), biological classification, the term subspecies refers to one of two or more populations of a species living in different subdivisions of the species' ran ...
. Using loud noises and waving large signals, Native peoples would drive bison into fenced pens called buffalo pounds to be killed with bows and arrows or spears, or drive them off a cliff (called a
buffalo jump A buffalo jump, or sometimes bison jump, is a cliff formation which Native Americans historically used to hunt and kill plains bison in mass quantities. The broader term game jump refers to a man-made jump or cliff used for hunting other game ...

buffalo jump
), to kill or injure the bison ''en masse''. The introduction of the horse and the gun greatly expanded the killing power of the plains Natives. This was followed by the policy of indiscriminate killing by European Americans and Canadians for both commercial reasons and to weaken the independence of plains Natives, and caused a dramatic drop in bison numbers from millions to a few hundred in a century's time, and almost caused their extinction.


Farming and ranching

The very dense soil plagued the first European settlers who were using wooden
plows A plough or plow ( US; both ) is a farm tool for loosening or turning the soil before sowing Sowing is the process of planting. An area or object that has had seeds planted in it will be described as a sowed area. Plants which are us ...

plows
, which were more suitable for loose forest soil. On the prairie, the plows bounced around, and the soil stuck to them. This problem was solved in 1837 by an
Illinois Illinois ( ) is a in the region of the . Of the fifty U.S. states, it has the , population, and the . is the state's largest city and the fifth with the capital in , located in the center of the state; other major metropolitan areas in ...

Illinois
blacksmith A blacksmith is a metalsmith A metalsmith or simply smith is a craftsperson fashioning useful items (for example, tools, kitchenware, tableware, jewellery, and weapons) out of various metal A metal (from Ancient Greek, Greek μέτ ...

blacksmith
named
John Deere John Deere () is the brand name of Deere & Company, an American corporation that manufactures agricultural machinery, heavy equipment, forestry machinery, diesel engines, drivetrains (axles, transmissions, gearboxes) used in heavy equipment, and ...
who developed a
steel Steel is an alloy An alloy is an admixture of metal A metal (from Ancient Greek, Greek μέταλλον ''métallon'', "mine, quarry, metal") is a material that, when freshly prepared, polished, or fractured, shows a lustrous appe ...

steel
moldboard plow that was stronger and cut the roots, making the fertile soils ready for farming. Former grasslands are now among the most productive
agricultural land Agricultural land is typically land ''devoted to'' agriculture Agriculture is the science, art and practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentism, sedentary human civilization, whe ...

agricultural land
s on Earth. The tallgrass prairie has been converted into one of the most intensive crop producing areas in North America. Less than one tenth of one percent (<0.09%) of the original landcover of the tallgrass prairie biome remains. States formerly with landcover in native tallgrass prairie such as Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Missouri have become valued for their highly productive soils and are included in the
Corn Belt The Corn Belt is a region of the Midwestern United States The midwestern United States, often referred to simply as the Midwest, is one of four Census Bureau Region, census regions of the United States Census Bureau (also known as "Region ...

Corn Belt
. As an example of this land use intensity, Illinois and Iowa rank 49th and 50th, out of 50 US states, in total uncultivated land remaining. Drier shortgrass prairies were once used mostly for open-range ranching. But the development of
barbed wire A close-up view of a barbed wire Roll of modern agricultural barbed wire Barbed wire, also known as barb wire, occasionally corrupted as bobbed wire or bob wire, is a type of steel Steel is an alloy An alloy is an admixture of metal ...

barbed wire
in the 1870s, and improved
irrigation Irrigation is the agricultural Agriculture is the practice of cultivating plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary Image:Family watching television 1958.jpg, Exercise trends, Increases in seden ...

irrigation
techniques, mean that this region has mostly been converted to cropland and small fenced pasture as well.


Biofuels

Research by David Tilman, ecologist at the
University of Minnesota The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (the U of M or Minnesota) is a public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an individual or an organization An organ ...

University of Minnesota
, suggests that "
Biofuel Biofuel is fuel that is produced through contemporary processes from biomass, rather than by the very slow geological processes involved in the formation of fossil fuels, such as oil. Since biomass technically can be used as a fuel directly (e. ...

Biofuel
s made from high-diversity mixtures of prairie plants can reduce global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even when grown on infertile soils, they can provide a substantial portion of global energy needs, and leave fertile land for food production." Unlike corn and soybeans, which are both directly and indirectly major food crops, including livestock feed, prairie grasses are not used for human consumption. Prairie grasses can be grown in infertile soil, eliminating the cost of adding nutrients to the soil. Tilman and his colleagues estimate that prairie grass biofuels would yield 51 percent more energy per acre than ethanol from corn grown on fertile land. Some plants commonly used are lupine,
big bluestem ''Andropogon gerardi'', known commonly as big bluestem, tall bluestem, bluejoint, and turkeyfoot, is a species of tall grass native plant, native to much of the Great Plains and grassland regions of central and eastern North America. Description ...
(turkey foot), blazing star,
switchgrass ''Panicum virgatum'', commonly known as switchgrass, is a perennial A perennial plant or simply perennial is a plant that lives more than two years. The term ('' per-'' + '' -ennial'', "through the years") is often used to differentiate a ...
, and prairie clover.


Preservation

Because rich and thick topsoil made the land well suited for agricultural use, only 1% of tallgrass prairie remains in the U.S. today. Shortgrass prairie is more abundant. Significant preserved areas of prairie include: * Alderville Black Oak Savanna; Rice Lake (Ontario), Rice Lake, Ontario * American Prairie, Phillips County, Montana, Phillips and Blaine County, Montana, Blaine counties,
Montana Montana () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Montana
* Ceresco Prairie Conservancy, Ripon College (Wisconsin), Ripon College,
Wisconsin Wisconsin () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Wisconsin
* Clymer Meadow Preserve, Hunt County,
Texas Texas (, ; Spanish language, Spanish: ''Texas'', ''Tejas'') is a state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States. At 268,596 square miles (695,662 km2), and with more than 29.1 million residents in 2020, ...

Texas
* Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park,
Alberta ("Strong and free") , image_map = Alberta in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English , capital = Edmonton Edmonton ( ) is the capital ...

Alberta
and
Saskatchewan ("From Many Peoples Strength") , image_map = Saskatchewan in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English language, English , capital = Regina, S ...
* Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, Grundy County, Illinois * Grasslands National Park,
Saskatchewan ("From Many Peoples Strength") , image_map = Saskatchewan in Canada 2.svg , Label_map = yes , coordinates = , official_lang = English language, English , capital = Regina, S ...
* Hoosier Prairie State Nature Preserve, Hoosier Prairie, Lake County, Indiana * James Woodworth Prairie Preserve, a ''virgin prairie'' owned by University of Illinois, Glenview, Illinois * Jennings Environmental Education Center, Pennsylvania * Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, Okeechobee County, Florida * Konza Prairie, Manhattan, Kansas * Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, in Will County, Illinois * Nachusa Grasslands, a The Nature Conservancy, Nature Conservancy preserve near Franklin Grove,
Illinois Illinois ( ) is a in the region of the . Of the fifty U.S. states, it has the , population, and the . is the state's largest city and the fifth with the capital in , located in the center of the state; other major metropolitan areas in ...

Illinois
* Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, in Comanche County, Oklahoma * Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge,
Iowa Iowa () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States, bordered by the Mississippi River to the east and the Missouri River and Big Sioux River to the west. It is bordered by six states: Wiscon ...

Iowa
* Nine-Mile Prairie,
Nebraska Nebraska () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Nebraska
* Ojibway prairie in Windsor, Ontario. * Paynes Prairie, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Alachua County, Florida * Richard Bong State Recreation Area, in Kenosha County, Wisconsin * Russell R. Kirt Prairie, College of DuPage,
Illinois Illinois ( ) is a in the region of the . Of the fifty U.S. states, it has the , population, and the . is the state's largest city and the fifth with the capital in , located in the center of the state; other major metropolitan areas in ...

Illinois
* Tallgrass Aspen Parkland,
Manitoba Manitoba ( ) is a Provinces and territories of Canada, province of Canada at the Centre of Canada, longitudinal centre of the country. It is Canada's Population of Canada by province and territory, fifth-most populous province, with a population o ...

Manitoba
&
Minnesota Minnesota () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Minnesota
* Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve,
Kansas Kansas () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. Its Capital city, capital is Topeka and its largest city is Wichita, Kansas, Wichita. Kansas is a landlocked state bordered by Nebraska to the north; ...

Kansas
* Tallgrass Prairie Preserve ,
Oklahoma Oklahoma () is a U.S. state, state in the South Central United States, South Central region of the United States, bordered by the state of Texas on the south and west, Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, New ...
* University of Wisconsin–Madison Arboretum, University of Wisconsin–Madison,
Wisconsin Wisconsin () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Wisconsin
* Zumwalt Prairie, Wallowa County, Oregon


Virgin prairies

''Virgin prairie'' refers to prairie land that has never been plowed. Small virgin prairies exist in the American Midwestern states and in Canada. Prairie restoration, Restored prairie refers to a prairie that has been reseeded after plowing or other disturbance.


Prairie garden

A ''prairie garden'' is a garden primarily consisting of plants from a prairie.


Physiography

The originally treeless prairies of the upper Mississippi basin began in
Indiana Indiana () is a U.S. state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. It is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 38th-largest by area and the List of U.S. states and territories by population, 17th-most populous o ...

Indiana
, and extended westward and north-westward, until they merged with the drier region known as the
Great Plains The Great Plains (french: Grandes Plaines), sometimes simply "the Plains", is a broad expanse of in . It is located west of the and east of the , much of it covered in , and . It is the southern and main part of the , which also include the ...
. An eastward extension of the same region, originally tree-covered, extended to central Ohio. Thus, the prairies generally lie between the Ohio River, Ohio and Missouri River, Missouri rivers on the south and the Great Lakes on the north. The prairies are a contribution of the glacial period. They consist for the most part of glacial drift, deposited unconformably on an underlying rock surface of moderate or small relief. Here, the rocks are an extension of the same stratified Palaeozoic formations already described as occurring in the Appalachian region and around the Great Lakes. They are usually fine-textured limestones and shales, lying horizontal. The moderate or small relief that they were given by mature preglacial erosion is now buried under the drift. The greatest area of the prairies, from
Indiana Indiana () is a U.S. state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern United States. It is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 38th-largest by area and the List of U.S. states and territories by population, 17th-most populous o ...

Indiana
to
North Dakota North Dakota () is a U.S. state In the , a state is a , of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a , each state holds al jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory where it shares its with the . Due to th ...
, consists of till plains, that is, sheets of unstratified drift. These plains are 30, 50 or even 100 ft (up to 30 m) thick covering the underlying rock surface for thousands of square miles except where postglacial stream erosion has locally laid it bare. The plains have an extraordinarily even surface. The till is presumably made in part of preglacial soils, but it is more largely composed of rock waste mechanically transported by the creeping ice sheets. Although the crystalline rocks from
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its Provinces and territories of Canada, ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, Pacific and northward into the Arctic Oce ...

Canada
and some of the more resistant stratified rocks south of the Great Lakes occur as boulders and stones, a great part of the
till image:Geschiebemergel.JPG, Closeup of glacial till. Note that the larger grains (pebbles and gravel) in the till are completely surrounded by the matrix of finer material (silt and sand), and this characteristic, known as ''matrix support'', is di ...

till
has been crushed and ground to a clayey texture. The till plains, although sweeping in broad swells of slowly changing altitude, often appear level to the eye with a view stretching to the horizon. Here and there, faint depressions occur, occupied by marshy sloughs, or floored with a rich black soil of postglacial origin. It is thus by sub-glacial aggradation that the prairies have been levelled up to a smooth surface, in contrast to the higher and non-glaciated hilly country just to the south. The great ice sheets formed terminal moraines around their border at various end stages. However, the morainic belts are of small relief in comparison to the great area of the ice. They rise gently from the till plains to a height of 50, 100 or more feet. They may be one, two or three miles (5 km) wide and their hilly surface, dotted over with boulders, contains many small lakes in basins or hollows, instead of streams in valleys. The morainic belts are arranged in groups of concentric loops, convex southward, because the ice sheets advanced in lobes along the lowlands of the Great Lakes. Neighboring morainic loops join each other in re-entrants (north-pointing cusps), where two adjacent glacial lobes came together and formed their moraines in largest volume. The moraines are of too small relief to be shown on any maps except of the largest scale. Small as they are, they are the chief relief of the prairie states, and, in association with the nearly imperceptible slopes of the till plains, they determine the course of many streams and rivers, which as a whole are consequent upon the surface form of the glacial deposits. The complexity of the glacial period and its subdivision into several glacial epochs, separated by interglacial epochs of considerable length (certainly longer than the postglacial epoch) has a structural consequence in the superposition of successive till sheets, alternating with non-glacial deposits. It also has a physiographic consequence in the very different amount of normal postglacial erosion suffered by the different parts of the glacial deposits. The southernmost drift sheets, as in southern
Iowa Iowa () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States, bordered by the Mississippi River to the east and the Missouri River and Big Sioux River to the west. It is bordered by six states: Wiscon ...

Iowa
and northern
Missouri Missouri is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in ...

Missouri
, have lost their initially plain surface and are now maturely dissected into gracefully rolling forms. Here, the valleys of even the small streams are well opened and graded, and marshes and lakes are rare. These sheets are of early Pleistocene origin. Nearer the Great Lakes, the till sheets are trenched only by the narrow valleys of the large streams. Marshy sloughs still occupy the faint depressions in the till plains and the associated moraines have abundant small lakes in their undrained hollows. These drift sheets are of late Pleistocene origin. When the ice sheets extended to the land sloping southward to the Ohio River, Mississippi River and Missouri River, the drift-laden streams flowed freely away from the ice border. As the streams escaped from their subglacial channels, they spread into broader channels and deposited some of their load, and thus aggraded their courses. Local sheets or aprons of gravel and sand are spread more or less abundantly along the outer side of the morainic belts. Long trains of gravel and sands clog the valleys that lead southward from the glaciated to the non-glaciated area. Later, when the ice retreated farther and the unloaded streams returned to their earlier degrading habit, they more or less completely scoured out the valley deposits, the remains of which are now seen in terraces on either side of the present flood plains. When the ice of the last glacial epoch had retreated so far that its front border lay on a northward slope, belonging to the drainage area of the Great Lakes, bodies of water accumulated in front of the ice margin, forming glacio-marginal lakes. The lakes were small at first, and each had its own outlet at the lowest depression of land to the south. As the ice melted further back, neighboring lakes became confluent at the level of the lowest outlet of the group. The outflowing streams grew in the same proportion and eroded a broad channel across the height of land and far down stream, while the lake waters built sand reefs or carved shore cliffs along their margin, and laid down sheets of clay on their floors. All of these features are easily recognized in the prairie region. The present site of Chicago was determined by an Indian portage or carry across the low divide between Lake Michigan and the headwaters of the Illinois River. This divide lies on the floor of the former outlet channel of the glacial Lake Michigan. Corresponding outlets are known for Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior. A very large sheet of water, named Lake Agassiz, once overspread a broad till plain in northern
Minnesota Minnesota () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Minnesota
and North Dakota. The outlet of this glacial lake, called river Warren, eroded a large channel in which the Minnesota River evident today. The Red River of the North flows northward through a plain formerly covered by Lake Agassiz. Certain extraordinary features were produced when the retreat of the ice sheet had progressed so far as to open an eastward outlet for the marginal lakes. This outlet occurred along the depression between the northward slope of the Appalachian plateau in west-central New York and the southward slope of the melting ice sheet. When this eastward outlet came to be lower than the south-westward outlet across the height of land to the Ohio or Mississippi river, the discharge of the marginal lakes was changed from the Mississippi system to the Hudson River, Hudson system. Many well-defined channels, cutting across the north-sloping spurs of the plateau in the neighborhood of Syracuse, New York, mark the temporary paths of the ice-bordered outlet river. Successive channels are found at lower and lower levels on the plateau slope, indicating the successive courses taken by the lake outlet as the ice melted farther and farther back. On some of these channels, deep gorges were eroded heading in temporary cataracts which exceeded Niagara in height but not in breadth. The pools excavated by the plunging waters at the head of the gorges are now occupied by little lakes. The most significant stage in this series of changes occurred when the glacio-marginal lake waters were lowered so that the long escarpment of Niagara limestone was laid bare in western New York. The previously confluent waters were then divided into two lakes. The higher one, Lake Erie, supplied the outflowing Niagara River, which poured its waters down the escarpment to the lower, Lake Ontario. This gave rise to Niagara Falls. Lake Ontario's outlet for a time ran down the Mohawk Valley to the Hudson River. At this higher elevation, it was known as Glacial Lake Iroquois, Lake Iroquois. When the ice melted from the northeastern end of the lake, it dropped to a lower level, and drained through the St. Lawrence area. This created a lower base level for the Niagara River, increasing its erosive capacity. In certain districts, the subglacial till was not spread out in a smooth plain, but accumulated in elliptical mounds, 100–200 feet. high and long with axes parallel to the direction of the ice motion as indicated by striae on the underlying rock floor. These hills are known by the Irish name, drumlins, used for similar hills in north-western Ireland. The most remarkable groups of drumlins occur in western New York (state), New York, where their number is estimated at over 6,000, and in southern Wisconsin, where it is placed at 5,000. They completely dominate the topography of their districts. A curious deposit of an impalpably fine and unstratified silt, known by the German language, German name bess (or
loess Loess (, ; from German ''Löss'' ) is a clastic, predominantly silt-sized sediment Sediment is a naturally occurring material that is broken down by processes of weathering and erosion, and is subsequently sediment transport, transported by ...
), lies on the older drift sheets near the larger river courses of the upper Mississippi basin. It attains a thickness of or more near the rivers and gradually fades away at a distance of ten or more miles (16 or more km) on either side. It contains land shells, and hence cannot be attributed to marine or lacustrine submergence. The best explanation is that, during certain phases of the glacial period, it was carried as dust by the winds from the flood plains of aggrading rivers, and slowly deposited on the neighboring grass-covered plains. The glacial and Aeolian processes, eolian origin of this sediment is evidenced by the angularity of its grains (a bank of it will stand without slumping for years), whereas, if it had been transported significantly by water, the grains would have been rounded and polished. Loess is parent material for an extremely fertile, but droughty soil. Southwestern
Wisconsin Wisconsin () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Wisconsin
and parts of the adjacent states of
Illinois Illinois ( ) is a in the region of the . Of the fifty U.S. states, it has the , population, and the . is the state's largest city and the fifth with the capital in , located in the center of the state; other major metropolitan areas in ...

Illinois
,
Iowa Iowa () is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States, bordered by the Mississippi River to the east and the Missouri River and Big Sioux River to the west. It is bordered by six states: Wiscon ...

Iowa
, and
Minnesota Minnesota () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Minnesota
are known as the driftless zone, because, although bordered by drift sheets and moraines, it is free from glacial deposits. It must therefore have been a sort of oasis, when the ice sheets from the north advanced past it on the east and west, and joined around its southern border. The reason for this exemption from glaciation is the converse of that for the southward convexity of the morainic loops. For while they mark the paths of greatest glacial advance along lowland troughs (lake basins), the driftless zone is a district protected from ice invasion by reason of the obstruction which the highlands of northern Wisconsin and Michigan (part of the Superior upland) offered to glacial advance. The course of the upper Mississippi River is largely consequent upon glacial deposits. Its sources are in the morainic lakes in northern
Minnesota Minnesota () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

Minnesota
. The drift deposits thereabouts are so heavy that the present divides between the drainage basins of Hudson Bay, Lake Superior, and the Gulf of Mexico evidently stand in no very definite relation to the preglacial divides. The course of the Mississippi through Minnesota is largely guided by the form of the drift cover. Several rapids and the Saint Anthony Falls (determining the site of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Minneapolis) are signs of immaturity, resulting from superposition through the drift on the under rock. Farther south, as far as the entrance of the Ohio River, the Mississippi follows a rock-walled valley deep, with a flood-plain wide. This valley seems to represent the path of an enlarged early-glacial Mississippi, when much precipitation that is today discharged to Hudson Bay and the Gulf of St Lawrence was delivered to the Gulf of Mexico, for the curves of the present river are of distinctly smaller radii than the curves of the valley. Lake Pepin ( below Saint Paul, Minnesota, St. Paul), a picturesque expansion of the river across its flood-plain, is due to the aggradation of the valley floor where the Chippewa River (Wisconsin), Chippewa River, coming from the northeast, brought an overload of fluvio-glacial drift. Hence, even the father of waters, like so many other rivers in the Northern states, owes many of its features more or less directly to glacial action. The fertility of the prairies is a natural consequence of their origin. During the mechanical transportation of the till, no vegetation was present to remove the minerals essential to plant growth, as is the case in the soils of normally weathered and dissected peneplains. The soil is similar to the Appalachian piedmont which though not exhausted by the primeval forest cover, are by no means so rich as the till sheets of the prairies. Moreover, whatever the rocky understructure, the till soil has been averaged by a thorough mechanical mixture of rock grindings. Hence, the prairies are continuously fertile for scores of miles together. The true prairies were once covered with a rich growth of natural grass and annual flowering plants, but today, they are covered with farms.


See also

*
Great Plains The Great Plains (french: Grandes Plaines), sometimes simply "the Plains", is a broad expanse of in . It is located west of the and east of the , much of it covered in , and . It is the southern and main part of the , which also include the ...
:* Shortgrass prairie :* Mixed grass prairie :* Tallgrass prairie * Prairies Ecozone * Interior Plains *
Canadian Prairies The Canadian Prairies (usually referred to as simply the Prairies in Canada) is a region in Western Canada Western Canada, also referred to as the Western Provinces and more commonly known as the West, is a region In geography Geogra ...
* Geography of North America * North American Prairies Province * Aspen parkland * Buffalo Commons * Coastal plain * Coastal prairie (disambiguation), Coastal prairie *
Dust Bowl The Dust Bowl was a period of severe dust storm A dust storm, also called a sandstorm, is a meteorological phenomenon common in arid A region is arid when it is characterized by a severe lack of available water, to the extent o ...
* Field (agriculture), Field * Flooded grasslands and savannas * Flood-meadow * Grassland * Heath * Meadow * Outback *
Pampas The Pampas (from the qu, pampa, meaning "plain") are fertile South America South America is a continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rather than any str ...

Pampas
* Pasture * Plain * Prairie dog * Prairie madness * Prairie restoration * Puszta * Rangeland * Savanna * Steppe * Panicum virgatum, Switchgrass * Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands * Veld * Water-meadow * Wet meadow


References


External links


The Prairie Enthusiasts
– grassland protection and restoration in the upper Midwestern United States, Midwest
Prairie Plains Resource Institute

The Native Prairies Association of Texas



Missouri Prairie Foundation

America’s Grasslands
Documentary produced by Prairie Public Television {{Authority control Prairies, *