Pre-visit lesson suggestions:
Biological diversity, also called biodiversity, is defined as all of the living things in a certain area. These living things exist together in what we call ecosystems - communities of living organisms and the nonliving components of their environment acting together as a system.
When learning about biodiversity, we often think of far-off places that have been the subject of much media attention, like the Amazon rainforest and the coral reefs, but the prairie ecosystem, found right here in Iowa, houses the same levels of biodiversity! Many different and unique species of grasses, flowers, birds, animals, insects and microorganisms find home on the prairie.
Grasses: There are between 40-60 species of grasses alone. These warm season grasses grow later in the season than the cool season, non-native grasses that Iowans are most familiar with. Grass species native to Iowa include big bluestem, Indian Grass, and switch grass.
Flowers: There are over 300 species of prairie forbs and flowers. These are tolerant of exposure to lots of hot sun and provide food for many of the insects and animals that also inhabit the prairies. Examples of wildflowers found on Iowa prairies include black-eyed Susan, prairie coneflower, purple prairie clover and butterfly milkweed.
Animals: Many animals made their home on the prairie. Some of these have been more successful than others at adapting to the loss of their native habitat. These animals range from large mammals such as bison, elk, and antelope, to small critters such as the 13-lined ground squirrel and American toad. Other prairie animals include red fox, coyote, pocket gophers, badgers and hognose snake.
Birds: The reduction of the prairie ecosystem has contributed to reduced bird populations and created conservation concerns for several species of songbirds. Prairie elimination has also led to the reduction of the predator species flying above. Birds commonly inhabiting Iowa’s tall grass prairies of the past included meadowlarks, bobolinks, dickcissels, bluebirds, red-tailed hawks, and northern harriers.
Insects: The grasslands provided habitat for many species of insects, such as beetles, grasshoppers, ants, bees and butterflies. The reduction of this habitat has endangered some species of butterflies.
Below Ground: Countless microorganisms reside down in soil and the immense root system of prairie plants. There are more living creatures in one shovel of soil than people on planet Earth (7 billion)!
Biodiversity: The variety of life in a particular habitat or ecosystem
Ecosystem: A community of living organisms and their environment
Trophic Level: Organisms that share the same function in the food chain
Consumer: An organism that eats other living things
Producer: An organism that produces its own energy
Decomposer: An organism that breaks down (decomposes) organic matter
Fungi: Spore-producing organisms that feed on organic matter
Residue: Dead or decaying plant material
Bacteria: Microscopic single-celled organisms that aid in digestion, aid in decay of living things, and can cause disease
Wetland Food Chains by Bobbie Kalman and Kylie Burns
Wetlands by Ronald Mood (wetland wildlife guide)
Tree of Life: The Incredible Biodiversity of Life on Earth by Rochelle Strauss, Margot Thompson
Herbivores, Carnivores, Omnivores
Preserving Biodiversity, Protecting Ourselves (Article by David George Gordon)
The Bio Da Versity Code (Animated short film on the disappearance of species)
Schoolyard Biodiversity (A schoolyard biodiversity educator’s activity guide)
Prairies, Wetlands and Croplands: Keys to the Future Lie in the Past
Recommended activities on p.8-9 include Who Am I? and Wetlands/Prairie Food Web