Ask a Scientist

Do you have questions about grasslands? Our team of scientists would love to answer them! 

Please correct errors below
They provide habitat for grassland birds and other species, as well as provide key ecosystem service such as capture of carbon and water. Many migratory bird species use grasslands for breeding, wintering, and as stopover sites. In the US, 13 grassland-dependent species are recognized by the Forest Service as sensitive.

The health and well-being of human populations depend on the services provided by ecosystems and their components: the organisms, soil, water, and nutrients. Ecosystem Services are the process by which the environment produces resources such as clean water, forage, and range; habitat for wildlife; and pollination of native and agricultural plants.

 

National grassland ecosystems provide services that:

  • Disperse seeds
  •  Mitigate drought and floods
  • Cycle and move nutrients
  • Detoxify and decompose waste
  •  Control agricultural pests
  • Maintain biodiversity
  • Generate and preserve soils and renew their fertility
  • Contribute to climate stability
  • Regulate disease-carrying organisms
  • Protect soil from erosion
  • Protect watersheds, and stream and river channels
  • Pollinate crops and natural vegetation
  •  Provide aesthetic beauty
  • Provide wildlife habitat
  • Provide wetlands, playas
  • Provide recreation
  •  Provide research opportunities

(From Ecosystem Services From National  Grasslands, US Forest Service: http://www.fs.fed.us/grasslands/ecoservices/index.shtml )

Over 1 million visitors annually enjoy the ecosystem services provided on the National Grasslands. Aesthetic beauty is one example of an ecosystem service provided on the grasslands for which there is no substitute. For many, nature is a source of wonderment and inspiration, peace, solitude, beauty and rejuvenation. The estimated value of aesthetic and passive use of forest ecosystem services alone is $280 million a year in the United States. Our National Grasslands provide aesthetic beauty in many forms including wildlife viewing by being home to a diversity of species including golden eagles, grouse, pronghorn, elk, prairie dogs, and bison. National Grassland units contain the largest representation of threatened and endangered species. In addition, our grasslands contain thousands of species of wildflowers, and stunning grass filled vistas that are available year-round for the viewing enjoyment of our public.

Natural ecosystems and the plants and animals within them provide humans with services that would be very difficult to duplicate. For example, pollination is a service for which there is no technological substitute. Our National Grasslands provide habitat for thousands of species of pollinators. While it is often impossible to place an accurate monetary amount on ecosystem services, we can calculate some of the financial values. Many of these services are seemingly performed “free” and yet are worth many trillions of dollars. Over 100,000 different animal species - including bats, bees, flies, moths, beetles, birds, and butterflies - provide free pollination services. One third of human food comes from plants pollinated by wild pollinators. The value of pollination services from wild pollinators in the United States alone is estimated at $4 to $6 billion dollars per year.

Most scientists believe there is a direct relationship between increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and rising global temperatures. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants capture carbon dioxide and remove it from the atmosphere. Because the National Grasslands contain large areas of intact prairie and other grassland types, they provide the ecosystem service of carbon sequestration in grassland vegetation and soil organic matter. Grassland ecosystem services help sustain, support, and fulfill human life. These services can be tangible or intangible, but they are nevertheless critical for sustaining human well-being.

(From Ecosystem Services From National  Grasslands, US Forest Service: http://www.fs.fed.us/grasslands/ecoservices/index.shtml )

Grasslands are characterized by the vegetation that grows there --- tall, mid, and short grasses.  What grows is determined by precipitation, temperatures, and use. Grasslands are a unique ecosystem just like a forest, desert, or ocean and have their own contributions to the natural and human world.  Grasslands provide habitats for many animal species and provide humans with much of our food source (livestock grazing and wheat, corn, grains) as well as a means for clean drinking water. The plants/grasses that grow on grasslands hold the soil in place, preventing tragedies like the “Dust Bowl.”    National Grasslands are rich in mineral, oil, and gas resources. They also provide diverse recreational uses, such as mountain biking, hiking, hunting, fishing, photography, bird watching, and sightseeing. Fossils, prehistoric and historic resources as well as many cultural sites, are being discovered. (From Lynne Cady Deibel, Wildlife Program Manager for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland)

Animal species vary depending on where the grassland is located but some common animals are: prairie dogs, swift fox, black footed ferret, antelope, mule deer, bison, coyote, rattlesnake, Bull snake,  woodhouse toad, chorus frog, horned lizard, monarch butterfly, plains top minnow, plains killifish, burrowing owl, ferruginous hawk, golden eagle, and many song birds including western meadowlark, grasshopper sparrow, and chestnut-collared longspur. (From Lynne Cady Deibel, Wildlife Program Manager for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland)

What happens to grass ecosystem when there is a short drought?

Grasslands are defined by the amount of precipitation they receive and have evolved with drought conditions. Grassland species, including plants and animals, have adapted to short-term changes in precipitation so a short drought may not impact them much. However, a long-term drought may affect growing conditions, which impact the amount of food and water available. 

Are animals and plants prepared for droughts in the grassland?

Grassland animals and plants have adapted to their living conditions in a variety of ways. Some examples are: they dig burrows to stay cool; they vary their diets so they can eat different foods; and they move less to conserve energy. The soil of the grasslands is generally deep and fertile, with roots penetrating way below ground where moisture is retained during droughts. Perennial grasses bud below ground or just at the surface, making them resistant to drought, fire, and cold. The stem is narrow and upright, reducing the effects of heat in the summer.  Grasslands rely on seasonal drought, fire, and grazing to prevent shrubs and trees from becoming established. (From Lynne Cady Deibel, Wildlife Program Manager for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland)

Partners

FSNatureLIVE USDA Forest Service Prince William Network CBS Denver Whiting Petroleum Corporation Pawnee Buttes Seed Inc.
Reserva de la Biosfera de Janos Channel 44/Canal 44 El Canal de las Noticias Bird Conservancy of the Rockies The Nature Conservancy - Reserva Ecologica El Uno
CONANP Aves Argentinas Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan Environment for the Americas Soapstone Prairie Natural Area