Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Spring 2010


Great Plains Research 20 (Spring 2010): 3-5


Copyright 2010 Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Used by permission.


Grasslands cover a large portion of the world’s land surface but increasingly suffer from numerous threats. Temperate grasslands are the most endangered and least protected biome in the world (Hoekstra et al. 2005; Henwood, this issue). Grasslands suffer from the twin dangers of seeming to lack charismatic features deserving of protection (the Great Plains, one of the world’s great grasslands, has sometimes been dismissed as “the Great Empty” because it lacks mountains or coastal areas) and of being prime land for conversion to crop agriculture. As a result, people converted or destroyed much of the original Great Plains grassland and devastated much of its amazing biodiversity. While estimates differ, it appears that in the northern Great Plains only about 1% to 3% of the original tallgrass prairie remains intact, perhaps 20% to 30% of the mixed-grass prairie, and 40% to 70% of the shortgrass prairie (Bragg and Steuter 1996; Steinauer and Collins 1996; Weaver et al. 1996; Licht 1997). Through this process the nation lost a substantial proportion of the region’s biodiversity, although no overall inventory of the loss appears to be available. Much of the surviving grasslands remain in private hands, so private landowners will largely determine the fate of biodiversity conservation on this open, sweeping landscape.