Grasslands: Home of Prairie Dogs





Description of Ecosystem

The ecosystem of a Prairie Dog is grassland. Grasslands are huge open spaces and exist on every continent except for Antarctica. There are not very many bushes in this ecosystem. Trees are found only by rivers or streams. This ecosystem is like a endless ocean of grass and prairie. Grasslands receive around 10 to 30 inches or rain per year. If they receive more rain, it would become a forest, if they receive less rain then it would become a desert. The Grasslands are right in between a desert and a forest. Not to dry, not to wet. Grasslands soil tends to be deep and fertile. The roots of perennial grasses usually penetrate far into the soil. In North America, the prairies were once inhabited by huge herds of bison and pronghorns who fed on the prairie grasses. These herds are almost gone now, and most of the prairies have been converted into the richest agricultural region on the earth. This makes farming easier because of the rich soil.


Abiotic Factors
Climate- rainfall, temperatures and wind patterns. Temperatures determine whether grasslands, forests or one of the two form. The amount or the rainfall an area receives in a year makes an effect on the types and productivity of grassland plants. The climate in the grasslands in usually hot and dry in spring and summer and cool or cold in winter season. Precipitation in the winter falls mostly as snow rather than rain. During the hottest parts of the year more water evaporates from parts of the grasslands than rain falls, creating a moisture deficit.
Parent material- is the geological material that lies on top of the rock and is foundation on which soil has developed. Much of the parent material grasslands was deposited when the last ice sheets melted away. The material dropped in place under the ice changes in thickness from a thin veneer to several metres, and contains all sizes of rocks and particles from boulders to silts. Rivers and streams flow through some areas of the grasslands.
Soil- develops in the upper portion of the parent material and is a mixture of abiotic and biotic materials-minerals, organic matter, water and air. Water flows through the soil and hence the chemistry and nutrients of the soil. This combination of texture, water flow and chemistry determines the vegetation that grows the area. The fine silt soils found on the terraces of Okanagan, Kootenay and Thompson valleys. They also hold water and then it is evaporated or soaked up by the dense fine roots of grasses; trees are not common. Grasslands have a rich layer of organic matter that forms the top of the soil. Roots form as much as half the volume of a grass plant and up to 50% are replaced every year. The Grasslands receive ten to thirty inches of rain fall each year. There is a regular drought every year. The animals are active only during the rainy season.

Topography- The variety of shapes found on the landscape determined by slopes, elevation and aspects. The topography of the ecosystem is a varied landscape of gently rolling hills and prairies, rock outcrops, cliffs, gullies and low lying areas. Aspects refer to the direction in which a piece of land is facing. Areas that face towards the south or the sun are hotter and drier that areas that face north or away from the sun. The slope of an area is the angle at which the land lies. It is important in our grasslands as water may run downhill rather than get soaked up into the ground where it is available for plants. Elevation describes the height of land above sea level. Temperatures are generally cooler and rainfall is higher as elevation is gained.
Natural Disturbances- change grasslands in many ways, adding to the diversity of these ecosystems. Some types of disturbances, such as annual flooding of riparian areas along rivers and streams, can be predicted while others, such as a fire after a lightning storm, happen unexpectedly.

Biotic Factors

The biotic things in a grassland ecosystem are the living organisms that live in the ecosystem. These organisms are called producers, consumers or decomposers.
Producers-are made to capture the sun’s energy using photosynthesis and take in nutrients from the soil, storing them to be used later by themselves and by other organisms in the grasslands. Grasses, shrubs, trees, mosses, lichens, and cyanobacteria are a few of the many producers that are found in the grassland ecosystem. When these plants die they give energy to a different organism such as insects, fungi and bacteria that live in and on the soil and eat the plant debris. Grasses are a very important source of food for large grazing mammals like California Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, Elk, and for much smaller mammals like marmots, Pocket Gophers and mice.
Consumers-are the organisms that can’t capture the energy from the sun, but eat plants and/or animal material to get their energy for growth and activity. Consumers are also divided into three types of organisms based on their ability to eat and digest plant and animals:

· Herbivores- are the organisms that only eat plants, these organisms include elk that eat the grasslands of the Columbia valley, or a insect eating a leaf of a plant such as the geranium.
· Omnivores- are organisms that eat both plants and animals, and example of an animal is the black bear.
· Carnivores- eat only animals, like the red-tailed hawk, western rattlesnake, or the coyote.
Decomposers-include the insects, fungi, algae and bacteria that are both on the ground and in the soil to help break down the organic layer to give nutrients to growing plants. There are millions and billions of these organisms in each little square meter of grassland.
Soil-has a lot of biotic jobs in a grasslands ecosystem. It gives the material that plants grow in, holds moisture for plants to drink up, is the "trash can" for plant and animal matter, and gives a important habitat for the soil organisms that need a place to live. Soil is a very important link between the biotic and abiotic parts of a grassland ecosystem.


Food_Web_for_grasslands.JPG
Importance’s of the ecosystem
The importance’s of the grasslands ecosystem is that it's home to prairie dogs and without the grassland’s prairie there is nowhere for the prairie dogs to go. Then on the controversial side of the story, the grasslands are wonderful places for people to build and ranchers to grow crops. This ecosystem is paradise for many animals. The climate is very delightful because it is right between rainforest and desert.

There are two desert belts that circle the earth. Grasslands are found on either side. About 1 quarter of the earth’s land is in the grasslands.
-Tropical grasslands -- those closest to the equator -- are hot all year.
-Temperate grasslands are farther from the equator -- such as the U. S. prairies -- and have both hot summers and harsh winters.
Temperate grasslands once covered much of the interior of North America, and they were common in Eurasia and South America as well. In North America, the prairies were once inhabited by huge herds of bison and pronghorns, which were hunted by other predators. They are highly productive when they are first converted to agricultural uses because the organic material in the soil comes from hundreds of thousands of years of decomposition. Different places call prairies call them different things…
-Europe-steppes
-Africa-savannas
-South America-pampa



Treats
The threats to the Prairie Dogs are being beleaguered, pushed out or pursued by ranchers and housing developers. Its numbers have dropped by 98 percent in a little more than a century. Predators is a big problems, they include bobcats, coyotes, eagles, hawks and weasels. Prairie Dogs are being forced to move habits because of ecosystem destruction. The estimate of Prairie Dogs 100 years ago was around 8 million; today it is about 2 million.

Conservation Plan

A plan that would help the Prairie Dog and its ecosystem is to first stop building homes and buildings on their homes. There has to be another place. If you can’t do that then maybe a group of people could come together and make a home for Prairie Dogs like a 50 acre short grass prairie fenced in, and that way no one can just come and build. Lastly, maybe somebody could make a save the Prairie Dog foundation and get people to donate to the wonderful animals and their homes.

Other Facts:
A prairie dog’s tail is about ¼ its body weight. Adults are from 11 to 13 inches long and weigh 2 to 3 pounds. They eat mostly grasses and forbs. Breeding begins in late February and between 4 and 6 young are born. Then in another 4 to 6 weeks they young prairie dogs will appear above ground. Some prairie dogs get bulldozed to death. And some are killed by getting poisoned and then when they get that in their systems then they can suffer for more than 72 hours before dying.
Tall Grass Prairie-
Tall Grass lies mostly in the eastern part of the Midwest. The grasses here often grow to be five feet tall. The annual rain totals here approach 30 inches.
Mixed Grass Prairie- Mixed Grass lies mostly in the middle portion of the Midwest. The grasses here often grow to be two and three feet tall. Typically, there are 15 to 25 inches of rain per year.
Short Grass Prairie- Short Grass lies mostly in the western portion of the Midwest, along the coast of the Rocky Mountains into Canada. The grasses here grow to be no more than two feet tall. There is usually little more than ten inches of rain per year in these short grass prairies. Prairie Dogs are common in this area.


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