prairie

coyote

[kahy-oh-tee, kahy-oht]

Species (Canis latrans) of canine found in North and Central America. Its range extends from Alaska and Canada south through the continental U.S. and Mexico to Central America. It weighs about 20–50 lbs (9–23 kg) and is about 3–4 ft (1–1.3 m) long, including its 12–16-in. (30–40-cm) tail. Its coarse fur is generally buff above and whitish below; its legs are reddish, and its tail is bushy and black-tipped. The coyote feeds mainly on small mammals such as rodents, rabbits, and hares but can also take down deer, sometimes doing so in packs. Vegetation and carrion are commonly eaten as well. Though persecuted by humans because of its potential (generally overstated) to prey on domestic or game animals, it has adapted well to human-dominated environments, including urban areas. A coyote-dog cross is called a coydog.

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Any of five species (genus Cynomys) of short-legged, terrestrial squirrels, named for their barklike call. Once abundant throughout the plains of the western U.S., part of southern Canada, and northern Mexico, they are now found mostly in isolated or protected areas. They are 12–17 in. (30–43 cm) long, including a 1–5-in. (3–12-cm) tail. Their main diet is grass. Colonies consist of well-defined territories defended by a male, several females, and young. The burrows of the black-tailed prairie dog have carefully tended funnel-shaped entry mounds that prevent flooding and serve as lookout posts. The white-tailed prairie dog inhabits higher altitudes, hibernates, and is less colonial.

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Level or rolling grassland, especially that found in central North America. Decreasing amounts of rainfall, from 40 in. (100 cm) at the forested eastern edge to less than 12 in. (30 cm) at the desertlike western edge, affect the species composition of the prairie grassland. The vegetation is composed primarily of perennial grasses, with many species of flowering plants of the pea and composite families. The three main types of prairie are the tallgrass prairie; midgrass, or mixed-grass, prairie; and shortgrass prairie, or shortgrass plains. Coastal prairie, Pacific or California prairie, Palouse prairie, and desert plains grassland are covered primarily with combinations of mixed-grass and shortgrass species.

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Prairie, from the French prairie ("meadow", "grassland", "pasture"), refers to an area of land of low topographic relief that historically supported grasses and herbs, with few or no trees, and having generally a mesic climate.

In North America

Lands typically referred to as "prairie" tend to be in North America. The term encompasses much of the area referred to as the Great Plains of the United States and Canada. In the U.S., the area is constituted by most or all of the states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana, and sizable parts of the states of Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Minnesota. The Central Valley of California is also prairie. The Canadian Prairies occupy vast areas of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. There is only 2% of prairie land left in the U.S.

Drought

In spite of long recurrent droughts and occasional torrential rains, the grasslands of the Great Plains are not subject to great soil erosion. The deep, interconnected root systems of prairie grasses firmly hold the soil in place and prevent run-off. These deep roots also help prairie plants to reach water in even the driest conditions. The prairie evolved to survive in extreme conditions and suffers less damage from dry conditions than the farm crops which have replaced many former prairies.

Fire

Fire is an important part of prairie ecology; natural and human-induced fires were common in historic prairie areas, rejuvenating the herbaceous species, and top killing trees and brush. Grazing by animals such as the American bison and prairie dogs also helped maintain the original prairie ecology. Small areas of prairies also exist in eastern North America. It is possible that these were created by Native Americans by periodic burning. One such area was along the southeastern shore of Lake Erie in what is now Pennsylvania and New York; another was between Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake in present New York.

Preserved prairies

Significant preserved areas of prairie include:

Virgin prairies

Virgin prairie refers to prairie land that has never been plowed. Small virgin prairies exist in the American Midwestern states and in Canada. Restored prairie refers to a prairie that has been reseeded after plowing or other disturbance.

Prairie garden

A prairie garden is a garden primarily consisting of plants from a prairie.

In the world

Prairies are considered part of the temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome by ecologists, based on similar temperate climates, moderate rainfall, and grasses, herbs, and shrubs, rather than trees, as the dominant vegetation type. Other temperate grasslands regions include the Pampas of Argentina, and the steppes of Russia and Central Asia.

References

See also

External links

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