Common (Translated Scientific) Name: Needle-and-Thread - Western Wheatgrass - Plains Rough Fescue Grassland Macrogroup
Colloquial Name: Great Plains Mixedgrass & Fescue Prairie
Hierarchy Level: Macrogroup
Type Concept: The macrogroup is dominated by mixed grasses and scattered to moderately dense shrubs. It is found from northern Texas to southern Alberta. The most common graminoid species occurring across the range of the macrogroup include Hesperostipa comata and Pascopyrum smithii. Northern examples are typically dominated by Festuca spp., especially Festuca hallii, in combination with Bouteloua gracilis, Hesperostipa curtiseta, Koeleria macrantha, Pascopyrum smithii, Poa pratensis, and Symphoricarpos occidentalis. Southern examples are more likely to be dominated by species such as Aristida purpurea, Bothriochloa laguroides ssp. torreyana, Bouteloua curtipendula, Schizachyrium scoparium, and Sporobolus cryptandrus. The most mesic sites can have abundant tallgrasses, especially Andropogon gerardii, Panicum virgatum, and Sorghastrum nutans. Other common associated species include Bouteloua gracilis, Bouteloua dactyloides, Carex filifolia, Carex inops ssp. heliophila, Calamovilfa longifolia, Elymus lanceolatus, Festuca idahoensis, Hesperostipa curtiseta, Hesperostipa neomexicana, Koeleria macrantha, Muhlenbergia montana, Nassella leucotricha, Nassella viridula, Pseudoroegneria spicata, Sorghastrum nutans, and Sporobolus compositus. Common forb species tend to be somewhat restricted but may include Achillea millefolium, Ambrosia psilostachya, Amphiachyris dracunculoides, Artemisia ludoviciana, Cerastium arvense, Dalea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, Galium boreale, Hymenopappus scabiosaeus, Liatris punctata, Lygodesmia juncea, Pediomelum linearifolium, and Symphyotrichum falcatum. Woody species can occur and include Amelanchier alnifolia, Artemisia cana, Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda, Juniperus horizontalis, Prosopis glandulosa, Prunus virginiana, Rhus trilobata, Rosa arkansana, and Symphoricarpos occidentalis. Isolated patches of Quercus macrocarpa also can occur. Some examples may range into shrub-steppe. Grazing and fire are important dynamic processes in this macrogroup and can significantly influence the distribution and dominance of species within it. Fire suppression and overgrazing within the region has enabled the invasion of both exotics and some shrub species such as Juniperus virginiana and Prosopis glandulosa. These factors have also allowed for the establishment of Pinus ponderosa in the northwestern parts of the range. Conversion to agriculture likewise has decreased the range of this macrogroup. This type is found in regions centered between the shortgrass prairies in the western Great Plains and the tallgrass prairies in the eastern Great Plains. It occurs on both glaciated and non-glaciated substrates on a wide variety of landforms. The distribution, species richness and productivity of plant species is controlled by environmental conditions, in particular soil moisture and topography. Soils range from fine-textured loams to sandy or gravelly soils. Northern examples of this macrogroup contain significant areas of solonetzic soils, characterized by a subsoil hardpan layer with a high proportion of sodium and may also be clay, silty clay, or loam. The relative dominance of the various grass and forb species within different associations in the macrogroup also can strongly depend on the degree of natural or human disturbance. Because of its proximity to other prairie types, this macrogroup contains elements from both shortgrass and tallgrass prairies, which combine to form the mixedgrass prairie throughout its range.
Diagnostic Characteristics: This macrogroup is dominated by medium-tall graminoids and, in addition to a suite of diagnostic mixedgrass species, also contains elements from both the shortgrass prairies to the west and the tallgrass prairies to the east. The most common species present across the range of the group include Hesperostipa comata and Pascopyrum smithii. Drier sites may be codominated by shortgrass species such as Bouteloua gracilis and Koeleria macrantha. Northern sites in the Dakotas, Montana, and Canada are typically dominated by Festuca spp., especially Festuca hallii, and Hesperostipa curtiseta.
Rationale for Nominal Species or Physiognomic Features:
Classification Comments: A significant portion of the range of this macrogroup occurs in Canada. The rough fescue (Festuca hallii) in the north, where it extends into the aspen parkland, may be distinct enough to recognize as a separate macrogroup, but diagnostic species beyond rough fescue are needed (perhaps Hesperostipa curtiseta). More information about occurrences in Canada will help refine the definition of the northern range of this macrogroup. Characteristic codominants of fescue grassland include Bouteloua gracilis, Hesperostipa curtiseta, Pascopyrum smithii, Poa pratensis, Symphoricarpos occidentalis, as well as Koeleria macrantha.
Similar NVC Types:
M151 Great Plains Forest & Woodland, note:
M052 Great Plains Sand Grassland & Shrubland, note:
M115 Great Plains Badlands Vegetation, note:
M053 Western Great Plains Shortgrass Prairie, note:
M054 Central Lowlands Tallgrass Prairie, note:
M498 Great Plains Ruderal Grassland & Shrubland, note:
Physiognomy and Structure: This macrogroup is characterized by a dense to sparse mixture of mixedgrass species, along with tall and short grasses interspersed with forbs and short shrubs. Some examples may contain considerable leaf litter, bare soil and rock.
Floristics: The most common graminoid species occurring across the range of the macrogroup include of Hesperostipa comata (= Stipa comata) and Pascopyrum smithii. Other common species include Bouteloua curtipendula, Bouteloua gracilis, Bothriochloa laguroides ssp. torreyana, Bouteloua dactyloides, Carex filifolia, Carex inops ssp. heliophila, Elymus lanceolatus, Pseudoroegneria spicata, Schizachyrium scoparium, Sorghastrum nutans, Sporobolus compositus, Sporobolus cryptandrus, and Sporobolus heterolepis. Northern examples in Montana, the Dakotas, and Canada (the fescue grasslands) are typically dominated by Festuca spp. with the most common species being Festuca hallii (= Festuca altaica ssp. hallii), typically in combination with Bouteloua gracilis, Hesperostipa curtiseta (= Stipa curtiseta), Koeleria macrantha, Pascopyrum smithii, Poa pratensis, and Symphoricarpos occidentalis (Kupsch et al. 2012). Southern examples are more likely to be dominated by species such as Aristida purpurea, Bothriochloa laguroides ssp. torreyana, Bouteloua curtipendula, Schizachyrium scoparium, and Sporobolus cryptandrus. Common forb species include Ambrosia psilostachya, Amphiachyris dracunculoides, Artemisia frigida, Dalea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, Lygodesmia juncea, Opuntia polyacantha, and Sphaeralcea coccinea. Woody species can occur in many examples. Some common species include Amelanchier alnifolia, Artemisia cana, Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda, Juniperus horizontalis, Prosopis glandulosa, Prunus virginiana, Rhus trilobata, Rosa arkansana, and Symphoricarpos occidentalis. Elaeagnus commutata shrublands are common in the northern fescue grasslands. Isolated patches of Quercus macrocarpa also can occur. Some examples may range into shrub-steppe. Species composition and abundance can shift dramatically with overgrazing.
Dynamics: Fire, grazing, and drought are the primary processes occurring within the macrogroup. The diversity in this mixedgrass prairie likely reflects both the short- and long-term responses of the vegetation to these often concurrent disturbance regimes (Collins and Barber 1985). Fire is not as common as in more fertile, well-watered tallgrass prairies further east but is still important. Fire-return intervals in the central Great Plains have been estimated at 15-25 years (LANDFIRE 2007a) but fires burn patchily across the landscape, consuming vegetation in some areas and missing others. This combined with the differential responses of species to burning results in greater diversity across the landscape (Wright 1974). Grazing by native ungulates, primarily bison (Bos bison) and small mammals, principally prairie dogs (Cynomys spp.) added a further degree of patchy disturbance to the mixedgrass prairie (Whicker and Detling 1988, Weltzin et al. 1997). Long-term precipitation variance affects diversity of the mixedgrass prairie, creating conditions more favorable to shortgrass species during droughts while allowing mixedgrass species to spread during wetter years (Albertson and Tomanek 1965).
Environmental Description: This macrogroup occurs on a wide variety of landforms and soils. Climate and growing season length for the region in which it occurs are intermediate to the shortgrass regions to the west and southwest and the tallgrass regions to the east. Soils range from loams, clay loams, silty clays, and clays to more coarse-textured sandy or gravelly soils. The northern fescue grasslands in Alberta are dominated by dark brown chernozemic soils on a level to undulating plain. Parent materials are dominated by glacial till. The climate is cold, continental (mean daily temperature of 3.8°C, total precipitation 38 cm) with few chinooks, compared to the somewhat warmer and moist climate of the mixedgrass prairies in southern Alberta (mean daily temperature 4.5-5.0°C and total precipitation 34-42 cm) (Kupsch et al. 2012). Some examples may include an impermeable or slowly permeable subsoil claypan layer. Other northern soils may be solonetzic and characterized by a subsoil hardpan layer with an excess of sodium (Adams et al. 2013).
Geographic Range: This macrogroup is found in the central Great Plains, ranging from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada, south into northern Texas and northeastern New Mexico. Fescue grasslands are found in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana, and possibly North Dakota.
Nations: CA, US
States/Provinces: AB, CO, KS, MB, MT, ND, NE, NM, OK, SD, SK, TX, WY
|US Forest Service Ecoregions (2007)|
Southwest Plateau and Plains Dry Steppe and Shrub Province
Confident or certain
Yellowstone Highlands Section
Confident or certain
Confidence Level: Moderate
Confidence Level Comments:
Synonomy: > Blue Grama - Western Wheatgrass (704) (Shiflet 1994)
< Bluestem - Grama (709) (Shiflet 1994)
> Bluestem - Grama Prairie (604) (Shiflet 1994)
> Bluestem Prairie (601) (Shiflet 1994)
> Bluestem Prairie (710) (Shiflet 1994)
> Eastern Redcedar: 46 (Eyre 1980) [Only on really degraded sites.]
>< Fescue Grassland (613) (Shiflet 1994)
> Wheatgrass (610) (Shiflet 1994)
>< Wheatgrass - Bluestem - Needlegrass (606) (Shiflet 1994)
> Wheatgrass - Grama (609) (Shiflet 1994)
> Wheatgrass - Grama - Needlegrass (608) (Shiflet 1994)
> Wheatgrass - Needlegrass (607) (Shiflet 1994)
>< Wheatgrass - Saltgrass - Grama (615) (Shiflet 1994)
Concept Author(s): J.E. Weaver and F.W. Albertson (1956); R.T. Coupland (1961)
Author of Description: S. Menard, K. Kindscher, L. Elliott, D. Faber-Langendoen
Version Date: 20Nov2015
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