Northern Prairie

About the Area

This Global ecoregion is made up of these terrestrial ecoregions: Northern short grasslands; Nebraska Sand Hills mixed grasslands.
An abundance of appealing prairie wildlife, critical wetlands for migrating birds, and the potential for large-scale restoration make this ecoregion a high priority for conservation. A harsh winter climate characterised by snow, along with a short growing season and periodic, severe droughts shape its vegetation that reflects an arid grassland ecoclimate.

Much of this ecoregion has either been converted to wheat farms or rangelands. However, about 50,000 km2 of the Nebraska Sand Hills is considered relatively intact.

Local Species
Many prairie animals are burrowers, a great way to escape the heat and find shelter when trees are in short supply. For example, Black-tailed prairie dogs build extensive underground 'towns', which soon become temporary and permanent shelter for burrowing owls, jackrabbits, snakes, and many other species.

Thanks to conservation efforts, populations of the Black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys ludovicianus), Black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes), and the Bison (Bison bison) have all been increasing in recent years, and efforts are now underway to restore populations of the Swift fox (Vulpes velox).

The dominant grass communities include Grama-needlegrass (Bouteloua spp., Stipa spp.) and Wheatgrass (Agropyron spp.), and Wheatgrass-needlegrass, with Spear grass (Poa annua), Gramma, and Wheatgrass further north. The Sand Hills contain a distinct grassland association dominated by sand bluestem (Andropogon hallii), Calamovilfa longifolia, and the needle-and-thread (Stipa comata).

Among the many birds of the prairie are Ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis), Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Sharp-tailed and Sage grouse (Tympahuchus phasianellus and Centrocercus urophasianus), Mountain plover (Charadrius montanus), and the largest breeding population of endangered Piping plovers (Charadrius melodus). In the northern stretches of the prairie, scattered ponds known as 'prairie potholes' are key to the survival of thousands of migrating birds.

Threats
Much of this ecoregion is now grazed by livestock or has been converted to dryland farming. Other threats include oil and gas development and the construction of roads.

Resources

Size:
700,000 sq. km (270,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Temperate Grasslands, Savannas, and Shrublands

Geographic Location:
Central North America: Canada and the United States

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered

Quiz Time!

Which are the fastest hoofed animals in the world?

Answer:
Prairie pronghorns are the fasted hoofed animals in the world, achieving speeds of up to 60 miles (96 km) per hour!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.