All across the world, there are grasslands that stretch out as far as the eye can see. The grass blows softly in the wind, and you can faintly see the tops of wildflowers. This type of wildlife area often gets ignored when it comes to conservation, but the need to preserve it is becoming more and more apparent. With so many ecosystems living within the prairie, or grasslands, it’s necessary to protect it and keep it safe. It might seem like it would be easy to just plant a bit of grass and let it grow quickly, but it actually takes years for a fully-grown and diverse prairie ecosystem to develop. This type of area often gets destroyed for farmland and residential areas, because it’s flat and pleasant. There are things we can all do to help with prairie conservation, and the sooner we start preserving and renewing this land, the better off it will be.
Why is Prairie Conservation Important?
Grasslands are one of the most imperiled ecosystems out there. For example, there’s only 0.1% remaining in the ‘Prairie State’ of Illinois. These grasslands have been overtaken by urban developments, crop fields, and timber production.
When you look at the grasslands as a whole, they have some spectacular features and uses. These prairies, even with only a tiny percentage remaining, still support the livelihood of over 800 million people worldwide. They help clean our air and water and provide critical habitats for grassland species like bobolink birds, prairie chickens, bison, and box turtles, not to mention the myriad insect and plant species that hold the food web together. The Nature Conservancy has recognized the viability of this ecosystem and has made its preservation a global priority.
A Superhero Habitat
These prairie lands may not seem like much on the surface, but when you look below the billowing grass, you’ll find that their massive root systems grow over 20 feet into the earth. This means that these grasslands are large storage areas for carbon dioxide coming from the atmosphere and help clean the air that we breathe. These deep roots also hold the soil in place during heavy rains and wind, significantly reducing erosion and keeping the rivers and streams clear of unwanted sediment.
These open plains also help release the water evenly into the streams and other waterways. Nearby ecosystems developed around this way of life, and as we keep uprooting these grasslands, we are literally uprooting a water system that has worked and sustained itself for thousands of years. What happens when there are no roots left to hold onto and slowly release the water? We have an overflow of water into streams and rivers, causing an increase in flooding and chaos for the lands and animals (including humans!) in and around those waterways.
A Habitat for Many Species
The grasslands help people, but they are also home to many unique species. Prairie birds are now the most imperiled group of species in North America. 42 bird species depend on the grasslands for their home, food source, and breeding grounds, so protecting this prairie is crucial for their survival.
It’s not just the birds that need protecting with prairie conservation. It’s also the butterflies that float from flower to flower and the crickets that sing their summer song at night. It’s the bison that gently roam the lands, stopping to snack on the long stems of grass as they go. It’s the bees that buzz along and fertilize our crops along with the wildflowers. There are also the plants that grow beside these animal and insect species. These plants are important to our ecosystem as well, from the roots that keep our air clean and stabilize the earth, to the fact that plants are often the source of our medicines, fibers, food, and comfort.
From humans to bees and everything growing in between, prairie conservation is more important today than ever before. Why? Because we are tearing them up at lightening speed, with the thought that it’s just grass and open land. Prairie lands are a very important part to our ecosystem, and the few conservation steps that are being taken are so important to support. One place where prairie restoration has become a focus is Wichita State University. Check out the wonderful work that’s been done by students, researchers, and teachers on the Ninnescah Reserve, which is only one of their project areas!
If you want to learn more about conservation, take a look at Ranger Mac’s other blogs, such as this one on the importance of ocean conservation!