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Research on biodiversity, landscape ecology, grazing management, greenhouse gas effects, control of invasive species, riparian ecology, sustainable development, and related fields is forging a new and broader understanding of the Great Plains and its grassland ecosystems. This research documents dramatic changes that are taking place across the Great Plains and their consequences. First, we review the factors that led to the January 1999 symposium, "Great Plains at the Millennium," sponsored by the USDA Agricultural Research Service, USDA Forest Service, Ecological Society of America, Society for Range Management, as well as the Center for Grassland Studies and the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska. Then, we highlight the primary themes developed by the speakers. The funding for this special issue was provided by grants from the USDA Agricultural Research Service and USDA Forest Service.