Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

Fall 1999


Published in Great Plains Research 9 (Fall 1999): 277-313. Copyright © 1999 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


Ecosystem, species and genetic dimensions of biodiversity have eroded since widespread settlement of the Great Plains. Conversion of native vegetation in the region followed the precipitation gradient, with the greatest conversion in the eastern tallgrass prairie and eastern mixed-grass types. Areas now dominated by intensive land uses are "hot spots" for exotic birds. However, species of all taxa listed as threatened or endangered are well-distributed across the Great Plains. These species are often associated with special landscape features, such as wetlands, rivers, caves, sandhills and prairie dog towns. In the long run, sustaining biodiversity in the Great Plains, and the goods and services we derive from the plains, will depend on how successfully we can manage to maintain and restore habitat variation and revitalize ecosystem functioning. Public policy and legislation played a significant role in the degradation of native habitats in the region. Both policy and legislation will be needed to reverse the degradation and restore critical ecosystem processes.