Prairies and Grasslands
Grasslands are the most abundant habitat type found in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Grasses are able to cope with the low annual precipitation, going dormant as the relatively wet spring gives way to the dry, hot summer. At first glance, grasslands may appear monotonous, but, in fact, the grasslands encompass a rich and constantly changing diversity of plants and animals.
A native grasses and many species of forbs and shrubs comprise the most diverse array of plant life in the park. Grasses including saltgrass, Western wheatgrass, needle-and-thread, and little bluestem provide valuable forage for many grazing animals including bison, wild horses, elk, mule deer, and prairie dogs, not to mention a rich array of insect life. The grazing animals and insects of the grassland in turn attract predators; prairie dogs are under constant threat from badgers, coyotes, hawks, and eagles, and insects are eaten by birds such as flycatchers and swallows.
Over time, woodier plants such as sagebrush and wild rose become established in grasslands, changing the forage available to grazing animals. Periodic fire, whether natural or prescribed by the park, is necessary to improve habitat and forage diversity. Fires reduce woody vegetation and allow early successional grasses and forbs to re-establish themselves.
Did You Know?
Prairie dogs are often persecuted for their apparent destructiveness to the plants in their towns. Although they do keep the grass's growth to a minimum, the rodent's foraging habits promote the growth of forbs, upon which other grazing animals such as bison, elk, deer, horses, and pronghorns feed. More...