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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

Examples of Prairie Forbs: Wild Indigo, Pale Purple Coneflower, Rattlesnake Master, Yellow Coneflower, Silky Aster, Showy Goldenrod In a typical prairie, there are more forb than grass species; for example 10 - 15 grass species (making up > 50% of the ground cover and biomass), 40-100 forb species, especially those belonging to the composite, legume, 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; forb roots can be deeper Two major types of roots: Tap Roots, Fibrous Roots Mycorrhizal Associations: Roots form mycorrhizal associations ( a type of mutualism) with soil fungi Fungi bring water and nutrients to the roots; plants provide food to fungi MULCH Mulch accumulates if not burned or grazed. Can be enormous quantities of mulch in tallgrass prairies (takes 3 to 4 years to decompose) Mulch shades the ground, thus keeping ground temperatures cool as well as reducing light levels at the surface and intercepting rainfall. Mulch provides habitat for many prairie animals When prairies burn, resultant removal of mulch stimulates increased growth and flowering.

TALLGRASS PRAIRIE CLIMATE Hot Summers, 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 are exposed to full sun, strong drying winds, heat, low soil moisture Strong herbivore activity (insects and mammals) Fire Drought FLOWERS, FRUIT AND FOLIAGE The prairie climate is highly seasonal, resulting in strong cycles of biological activities The foliage of prairie plants begins the growing season at ground level. By the end of summer, 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, with many seeds available into winter

Grass Adaptations Leaves are narrow Prevents overheating by exposing surfaces to wind currents, while at the same time reducing wind resistance Many vertical leaves Allows large photosynthetic surface areas exposed to the plentiful light without shading neighbors. 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

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

Remnants are threatened by fire suppression (tree invasion), by increased input of nitrogen (at high N levels, mycorrhizal fungi can turn pathogenic, shrubs invade), by invasion of exotic species (leafy spurge, sweet clover), by loss of grazing animals (bison) leading to decreased diversity. Evolutionary Adaptations of : Bison Prairie Chicken, Brown-headed Cowbird, Badger Main Points Prairie organisms are adapted to full sun, strong winds, hot summers, cold winters, frequent droughts, unpredictable snow cover, periodic wildfire. Examples of adaptive forms include: Narrow, vertical, hairy leaves Growing points at base of leaves Dry, 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. Jane knows that fires are an important part of prairie ecosystems. If local authorities do not allow her to burn her yards prairie planting, what action might she take to most closely approximate the effects of an early spring prairie burn. Explain your answer. 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?

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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. For each factor listed below: A. B. C. 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, a sparrow, or a bison are adapted to it Big Bluestem Adaptation Animal Adaptation Name______________


Moisture Patterns Description

Temperature Patterns Description

Big Bluestem Adaptation

Animal Adaptation Name______________

Seasonal Change Description

Big Bluestem Adaptation

Animal Adaptation Name______________


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