Prairies

Prairies are home to many different animals ranging from the mouse to the buffalo.  Every two or three years a prairie is host to a moderate wildfire.  These wildfires, assuming they are not too severe, aid the survival of the prairie itself.  By burning down and clearing out dead grasses and other material, the fire makes way for a new generation of the field’s grasses that will be healthier than before the fire.  All the ash and bare soil build up the nutrients in the soil so that the animals which will move back into the prairie when it’s grown again will be eating better grasses, in turn giving the predators healthier, fatter prey.

But what would happen if there were no wildfires in a prairie for a hundred years?  What would happen to it?  Starting simple, the grasses would give way to shrubs and small trees, which will eventually become a mature forest.  Some of the native species of the prairie would move out, possibly altering the food chain so that other species might starve because of the effects of the emigration.  Other animals might move in, especially birds, enriching the new forest with bird species and their hawk predators.

It is interesting how ecosystems change and adapt to alterations, such as a prairie with no wildfires to maintain it.  Humans have been burning prairies for hunting for thousands of years, secondarily caring for the well-being of the prairie.  So next time you see a prairie, think about how even something as destructive as fire can be a prairie’s doctor.

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