The Ecology


Old post

Anytime you have a species, there are areas where individuals are more common, so the density is higher. For Prairie chickens, that area was approximately oval shaped and extended across a large part of Iowa across the Mississippi into Illinois and south across the Des Moines River into Northern Missouri. This region formed the core of prairie chicken numbers. At the peak of abundance, about 1850-1863, this region held up to 26 Million Greater Prairie Chickens. Today, there is not a single known individual in this region.


In most respects, it is in some ways inaccurate to overstate the importance of any one species to a prairie or to any ecosystem. Species get out of balance and the system bring them back into balance. Greater Prairie Chickens play a much more complex role than I am able to describe here, but let's describe them as very efficient foragers that excel at harvesting insects in spring and summer and are very effective seed spreaders during the fall and winter.

Think of it; males spend most of their time on the booming grounds from February to June and after molting, they begin to attend daily in late August. That shows efficient foraging because they have so much free time.


The grasses form the basic structure of the prairie, just as trees do in a forest. Dominant species include Big and Little Bluestem and Indian Grass. Other important species include: Needle grass and Blue Grama.

Taking sunlight, minerals and conserving water, and by developing deep, strong root systems, our native grasses have formed the richest soils ever created on the planet.


The most incredible thing about prairies that first hit me was that once spring arrived, there was nearly always something blooming until winter hit with hard freezing weather.

From Shooting Stars, Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush, to the Coneflowers, compass plant, asters, daisies, Jerusalem artichoke, Sunflowers, spiderworts, bergamots, primroses and then the goldenrods of fall, the diversity of the flowering plants is staggering.


Orb Spider
The Web of Life includes spiders

Prairies are incredibly important to humans because they form the reserves where native pollinators live. In case you’ve been paying attention, pollinators including honey bees are in serious trouble because of all the pesticides we spray too often and in too many places.


Many prairie mammals are reduced dramatically from historical periods. Once the GREAT PLAINS ecosystem was the unrivaled center of abundance on this planet. Diversity of mammals was not as great as in Africa, but in terms of shear numbers, our continent held the spectacle. Princes and Heads of European countries came and marveled. There simply was nowhere else on earth like the prairies of North America.

Estimates of 70 to 100 million Bison, herds of Elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer. Pronghorn raced the shorted grasses. All of these hoofed ungulates foraged above millions of ground squirrels and prairie dogs, while hawks, eagles, and falcons hunted from the air. Red foxes, Kit and Swift Foxes, Coyotes and Grey wolves, bobcats and pumas patrolled the ground. Grizzly bears were a thousand miles from any mountains, living off those enormous herds.


From the end of the Lewis and Clark expedition to the end of the market hunting, the ecosystem was decimated in less than 100 years. We transformed the region into the greatest agricultural model on the planet. Now that we feed the world from this, perhaps we can afford to give a little bit back to our mother Earth.

Heath Hen

After being a bountiful food source for a growing population for many years, the Heath Hen of the Northeast was the first to become extinct.

Attwater's Prairie Chicken

Attwater's subspecies of the Greater Prairie Chicken has specific coastal habitat requirements that have rapidly disappeared.

Greater Prairie Chicken

Today landscape level remnants of Tallgrass Prairie are shrinking rapidly and threatening our Greater Prairie Chicken.