Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 12/10/2007
Publication Date: 8/23/2008
Citation: Lauenroth, W.K., Burke, I.C., Morgan, J.A. 2008. Chapter 1. The shortgrass steppe: The region and research sites. In: W.K. Lauenroth and I.C. Burke (eds.). Ecology of the shortgrass steppe: A long-term perspective. Oxford University Press, Oxford, England. pp. 3-13. Book Chapter. Interpretive Summary:
Technical Abstract: The central grassland region of North America (Figure 1.1) is the largest contiguous grassland environment on earth. Prior to European settlement, it was a vast treeless area characterized by dense head-high grasses in the wet, eastern portion, and very short, sparse grasses in the dry west. As settlers swept across the area, they replaced native grasslands with croplands, most intensively in the east, and less so in the west (Figure 1.2). The most drought prone and least productive areas have survived as native grasslands, and the shortgrass steppe occupies the hottest, driest, least productive locations. James Michener (1974) provided an apt description of the harshness of the shortgrass region in his book, Centennial: “It is not a hospitable land, like that farther east in Kansas or back near the Appalachians. It is mean and gravelly and hard to work. It lacks an adequate topsoil for plowing. It is devoid of trees or easy shelter. A family could wander for weeks and never find enough wood to build a house.” The objective of this chapter is to introduce the shortgrass steppe (Figure 1.3) and its record of ecological research. First, we will present an ecological history of the shortgrass steppe since the Tertiary, and provide the geographical and climatic context for the region. Second, we will describe the major research sites, and the history of the three major entities or programs that have shaped much of the science done in the shortgrass steppe: the USDA Agricultural Research Service; the International Biological Program; and the Long Term Ecological Research Program.