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Plain Wonderful: Grasslands News from September

Photo: Dennis Lingohr
[Fall light show on American Prairie Reserve. Photo: Dennis Lingohr]

 

Are prairie landscapes loved the least? Grasslands are the least protected ecosystem in the world despite the fact that they cover a quarter of the Earth’s surface. Some might say they are the least sexy, too. After all, can grasses really compete with dramatic mountain vistas, the mysteries of ocean depths or lush, green forests? We believe that the prairie ecosystem is just as intricate, charismatic and photogenic; perhaps it just needs a little more attention.

In an effort to increase awareness of related issues and conservation efforts, and encourage you to fall in love with our world’s prairies, we plan to compile a news roundup each month. These stories will introduce you to the people and organizations working to restore this endangered ecosystem and its wildlife and lead you to draw your own conclusions about the future of our grasslands.

Here’s some news from around the world for the first installment. We welcome your suggestions in the comments below. Happy reading!

Huge new nature reserves are needed to save species, says UN
By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
A new study released by the UN environment program and its partners has concluded that, while progress has been made to increase the amount of protected land and sea, there is still much work to be done to prevent significant losses in biodiversity. Rachel Kyte of the World Bank suggests that cooperating with the business world is one way to move forward.

Masai Mara staring into the face of disaster
By John Oyuke, Standard Digital
Is this world-renowned wildlife haven on a crash course with too much tourism? Changes in the migratory patterns of wildebeests have experts wondering how much human activity is too much.

‘Red List’ of Endangered Ecosystems Proposed by IUCN
By Becky Oskin, Our Amazing Planet
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which also created the well-known Red List of Threatened Species, is now exploring a Red List of Endangered Ecosystems that could become a reality by 2014. The shortgrass prairie of the Great Plains is one of several regions being considered for further assessment. However, it’s not all doom and gloom – a Green List of places where efforts are being made to reduce threats has also been proposed.

Plowing away the prairie, at a price
By Josephine Marcotty, Star Tribune
As part of a series entitled “The Vanishing Prairie,” this piece takes a hard look at increasing rates of land conversion from native prairie to agricultural use in the Great Plains. If you’re wondering how the environmental value of grasslands stacks up against improving agricultural technology, this article is for you. The series also includes a map and photo gallery.

Drought limits migrating birds’ rest stops
By Chuck Raasch, USA Today
Waterfowl populations in the Midwest were off to a good start this year thanks to adequate water levels during nesting season. Now that drought has taken over the region, migrating birds are finding limited landing strips as ponds disappear and prairie potholes become scarce.

Buffer zones key to survival of maned wolf
By Jeremy Hance, mongabay.com
The Brazilian Cerrado is a diverse landscape that spans several ecosystems, including savanna. These open grasslands and forests are home to the maned wolf, a unique South American predator that is on the verge of extinction. By studying the scat of nearly 100 wolves, scientists propose that more and better-managed buffer zones could help keep the species from disappearing.

In Tanzania, people and lions face off over wildlife corridors
By Laurence Caramel, Le Monde/Worldcrunch
Wildlife and human conflicts in East Africa are in the news for a second time this month – this time because of human encroachment into crucial wildlife corridors that run between the country’s formally protected areas. Can “participative conservation” make a positive change for wild and human residents?

The social lives of plants
By Deane Morrison, UMNews
New studies from University of Minnesota researchers suggest that plant communities are the original Facebook. Plants have competitive advantages when it comes to accessing nutrients, carbon and water, and scientists found that different species come to rely on each other. End result? Groups of plants experience a measurable loss in biomass when one of their pals is removed – and even adding a substitute doesn’t measure up. When it comes to ecology, think twice about de-friending.

Is that a Flappy Meal? Leopard goes for some fast food… which isn’t quite fast enough.
By Tony Bond, the Daily Mail
As a final reminder that grasslands are equally photo worthy, don’t miss these incredible images by photographer Matt Prophet. Apparently leopards don’t mind a buffet on the move!

 

American Prairie Reserve (APR) is assembling a world class wildlife reserve in northern Montana, with the goal of one day creating a seamless 3.5 million acre grassland ecosystem. APR’s President Sean Gerrity is a National Geographic Fellow. Learn more about APR, including our bison restoration efforts and how to visit, on the Reserve’s website.