Module 2a - Understanding Iowa's Ecosystems: Prairies

Wild flowers

The second module -- Iowa's Ecosystems -- offers a crash course in each of the three major ecosystems found in Iowa: prairies, forests, and aquatic ecosystems. The goal for each submodule is to introduce the history of the ecosystem, describe the current status and function of the ecosystem, and discuss the challenges facing the ecosystem in Iowa. In future modules and during the in-person sessions, we'll discuss approaches to address those challenges and how conservationists are using these natural ecosystems to address other challenges in Iowa like water quality and wildlife habitat.

At the end of this session on Iowa's Prairies, participants should:

  1. Be able to describe different kinds of prairies found in Iowa and their main components.
  2. Describe the functional value of prairie in Iowa’s landscape.
  3. List key prairie dependent wildlife in Iowa and their resource needs.

Before coming to the in-person session, complete the following elements.

  1. Watch the recorded lecture (51 minutes; download PDF of slides here) by Dr. Lisa Schulte Moore for an overview of the history, structure, and function of prairies in Iowa.
  2. Read the article on Prairies (pdf) from Iowa's Nature for a written general overview of prairie ecosystems found in Iowa.
  3. Two short videos from Iowa Public Television offer interesting perspectives on modern prairies in Iowa. First, the episode (3 minutes) on the Rochester Prairie Cemetery provides glimpse of the few remaining patches of prairie in Iowa that have never been plowed and discusses some of the controversies surrounding their management and preservation. The episode (5 minutes) on Greater Prairie Chicken restorations in southern Iowa provides an overview of a high-profile conservation challenge in the state and discusses framing prairie restoration in economic terms.

Supplemental resources

References supporting materials covered in this module. Explore as you have time and interest!

Episodes of Iowa Land and Sky program
The Iowa Land and Sky program from Iowa Public Broadcasting has a wonderful library of short, educational videos about Iowa's landscapes and ecology. Here's a list of episodes that add to the focus of this module.

Resources from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

Resources from the University of Northern Iowa's Tallgrass Prairie Center

Miscellaneous resources

Field guides

Effective plant identification is critical to understanding and managing prairies. There are many books available, but this list includes the best resources we've found after trying out a number. A quick online search or trip to the local bookstore may reveal a format or style you prefer. 


Do you have ideas for how we can improve this online module? Did we miss a resource that you think should be included? Were elements too long or too short? Too technical or not technical enough? Please help us improve the Master Conservationist Program by providing feedback on this short online form?