Lecture Notes 9-9-13 PRAIRIE: an ecosystem dominated by grasses and having less than 1 mature tree per acre

Wisconsin Prairie Types Dry Sand Prairie

Prairies were part of a grassland complex, which, together with savannas, occupied much of the land south of the Tension Zone. During cool/wet periods, fewer fires burned, and more trees developed. During warm/dry periods, more frequent fires--many of which were set by Native Americans-led to more prairies. Prairie Types: Dry Sand, Dry Limestone, Wet, Mesic PRAIRIE STRUCTURE Most plants are herbaceous perennials 2 basic groups of plants: Grasses Forbs: non-grasslike flowering plants Major Prairie Grasses: Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem, Indiangrass, Side-Oats Grama Grass, Prairie Cord Grass Grasses can form a sod or appear as clumps


legume. plants provide food to fungi MULCH Mulch accumulates if not burned or grazed. resultant removal of mulch stimulates increased growth and flowering. forb roots can be deeper Two major types of roots: Tap Roots. Pale Purple Coneflower. Fibrous Roots Mycorrhizal Associations: Roots form mycorrhizal associations ( a type of mutualism) with soil fungi Fungi bring water and nutrients to the roots. Can be enormous quantities of mulch in tallgrass prairies (takes 3 to 4 years to decompose) Mulch shades the ground. Yellow Coneflower. 2 . there are more forb than grass species. 40-100 forb species. Silky Aster. especially those belonging to the composite. and rose families Prairies have 3 layers: Roots Ground Layer (including mulch) Above Ground Herbaceous Layer Canopy of Tall Stems Understory of Short Stems Each layer is a complex community PRAIRIE ROOTS Estimates are that from 1 to 4 times as much biomass below ground as above ground in prairies Grass roots often 6 feet deep.15 grass species (making up > 50% of the ground cover and biomass).Examples of Prairie Forbs: Wild Indigo. Mulch provides habitat for many prairie animals When prairies burn. Showy Goldenrod In a typical prairie. for example 10 . Rattlesnake Master. thus keeping ground temperatures cool as well as reducing light levels at the surface and intercepting rainfall.

while at the same time reducing wind resistance Many vertical leaves Allows large photosynthetic surface areas exposed to the plentiful light without shading neighbors. strong drying winds. heat.TALLGRASS PRAIRIE CLIMATE Hot Summers. with many seeds available into winter Grass Adaptations Leaves are narrow Prevents overheating by exposing surfaces to wind currents. One estimate is that 1 acre of land contains 5 to 10 acres of leaf surface Tips of leaves of some grasses held at an angle parallel to sun. reduces direct exposure to damaging light 3 . plants are exposed to full sun. resulting in strong cycles of biological activities The foliage of prairie plants begins the growing season at ground level. FRUIT AND FOLIAGE The prairie climate is highly seasonal. By the end of summer. Cold Winters Low to Moderate Rainfall Frequent Droughts Unpredictable Snow Cover Strong Winds Frequent Fires MAJOR SELECTION PRESSURES FOR PRAIRIE PLANTS During the growing season. plants can be from 2 feet (dry prairie) to over 8 feet tall (mesic prairie) Something is in bloom or in fruit from March or April through October. low soil moisture Strong herbivore activity (insects and mammals) Fire Drought FLOWERS.

Frequent Drought Strong Winds Fire Ruminants—which include cattle. growth will continue. hairs and spines on leaves and stems. antelopes and camels as well as bison have a 4chambered stomach that provides extra steps in digesting grasses. Allows more efficient use of this food. reduce grazing pressure MAJOR SELECTION PRESSURES FOR PRAIRIE ANIMALS Seasonally Changing Cover Seasonal Food Availability Hot Summers. In Wisconsin. helps with wind resistance Thick leaves can reduce water loss. which is more efficient in warm weather. thus escaping predators or fire. than other pathways Other native grasses are most efficient in cool weather—spring/fall—Cool season grasses Forb Adaptations Small leaves.Leaves and Stems Contain Silica Helps deter insect grazers Grass flowers are wind pollinated Fruits are dry and compact. Many dominant grasses such as Big bluestem use the C4 photosynthetic pathway. with high nutrient content Growing points are at the bases of the leaves. such as that experienced in midsummer in the Temperate Grassland Biome. <0.01% of original prairie is left 4 . Cool Winters. deter grazing Chemicals in tissues. hairy leaves and stems reduce heat load through reflectance and convection. and also allows the animal to collect food and move on. if tops removed by grazing mammals or fire.

by loss of grazing animals (bison) leading to decreased diversity. Brown-headed Cowbird. compact fruit Examples of adaptive physiology include: Ruminant habit C4 photosynthetic pathway Examples of adaptive behavior include: Migration Nest (brood) parasitism Mycorrhizal associations Study Questions 1. Evolutionary Adaptations of : Bison Prairie Chicken. by invasion of exotic species (leafy spurge. cold winters. In what ways are prairie plants and animals adapted to fire? To winter? Why are mycorrhizal associations beneficial to prairie plants? What is the vertical structure of prairies? How does it change with the seasons? 2. shrubs invade).Remnants are threatened by fire suppression (tree invasion). hot summers. frequent droughts. vertical. strong winds. 3. Examples of adaptive forms include: Narrow. 4. periodic wildfire. If local authorities do not allow her to burn her yard’s prairie planting. mycorrhizal fungi can turn pathogenic. hairy leaves Growing points at base of leaves Dry. Explain your answer. sweet clover). 5 . unpredictable snow cover. Jane knows that fires are an important part of prairie ecosystems. Badger Main Points Prairie organisms are adapted to full sun. what action might she take to most closely approximate the effects of an early spring prairie burn. by increased input of nitrogen (at high N levels.

5. C. B. a sparrow. Moisture Patterns Description Temperature Patterns Description Big Bluestem Adaptation Animal Adaptation Name______________ Seasonal Change Description Big Bluestem Adaptation Animal Adaptation Name______________ 6 . For each factor listed below: A. Describe it in terms of the general characteristics of the prairie environment Describe a way in which Big Bluestem grass is adapted to it Describe a way that either a grasshopper. or a bison are adapted to it Big Bluestem Adaptation Animal Adaptation Name______________ 6. What kinds of selection pressures are present in Wisconsin lakes and ponds? In northern and southern Wisconsin Forests? In what ways are they similar/different? Prairie organisms have a variety of adaptations to the physical characteristics of the environment.

Choose organisms from a different Wisconsin community or another world biome and address the same issues. 7 .D.

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