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M115 Great Plains Badlands Vegetation Macrogroup

The U.S. National
Vegetation Classification
Type Concept Sentence: This badlands macrogroup is found in the northern Great Plains where erodible parent material is dissected into dry, sparsely vegetated, generally steep slopes, usually above rivers or perennial or intermittent streams. The dominant vegetation is a mix of shrubs, forbs, and grasses with each dominating some areas.
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Common (Translated Scientific) Name: Great Plains Badlands Vegetation Macrogroup
Colloquial Name: Great Plains Badlands Vegetation
Hierarchy Level: Macrogroup
Type Concept: This macrogroup includes badlands vegetation in the northern Great Plains of the United States and Canada. Vegetation cover is typically sparse but can be moderate in limited areas with shallower slopes. The dominant vegetation is a mix of shrubs, forbs, and grasses with each dominating some areas. There is typically zonation of vegetation from the top of a slope to the bottom with different groups of species most common in certain zones. Typical species found in Great Plains badlands are the shrubs Artemisia cana, Artemisia longifolia, Artemisia tridentata, Atriplex spp., Eriogonum flavum, Eriogonum pauciflorum, Gutierrezia sarothrae, Juniperus horizontalis, and Sarcobatus vermiculatus. Forbs include Iva axillaris, among others. Graminoids, though uncommon, include Pseudoroegneria spicata, and, in saline seepages, Distichlis spicata. Examples are found on slopes above rivers or streams, with erodible clay and poorly consolidated shale interspersed with sandstone, lignite lenses, and occasional scoria outcrops.
Diagnostic Characteristics: This macrogroup is found on eroded landforms with generally <10% vascular vegetation cover. Soft, erodible bedrock is exposed or less than 1 m below the surface. Typical species included are Artemisia cana, Artemisia longifolia, Artemisia tridentata, Atriplex spp., Eriogonum flavum, Eriogonum pauciflorum, Gutierrezia sarothrae, Juniperus horizontalis, Iva axillaris, and Sarcobatus vermiculatus. Mixedgrass prairie graminoid species are typically very low in cover or absent.
Rationale for Nominal Species or Physiognomic Features: This macrogroup is characterized by a mix of shrubs and forbs with some grasses. Nominals are common shrubs and forbs of the dry slopes on which Great Plains badlands occur.
Classification Comments: This macrogroup is relatively distinct from others due to the sparse vegetation and unique substrate within the northern Great Plains. Sites with greater vegetation cover typical of adjacent grasslands may be hard to distinguish from more vegetated mixedgrass prairie.
Similar NVC Types:
M118 Intermountain Basins Cliff, Scree & Badland Sparse Vegetation, note:
M051 Great Plains Mixedgrass & Fescue Prairie, note:
M116 Great Plains Cliff, Scree & Rock Vegetation, note:
Physiognomy and Structure: Great Plains badlands are typically sparsely vegetated (<10% total vascular vegetation cover). The sloping, eroding sites with bedrock at or near surface, lack of soil development, and lack of available moisture for plants limit the species that can grow. Small areas with shallower slopes, including step-in-slopes, toeslopes, etc., may have moderate vegetation cover. Dominant plants are usually shrubs and forbs, though grasses can dominate some areas. Dominant plants rarely grow more than about 1 m tall.
Floristics: Characteristic species can be shrubs, grasses or forbs. Common shrubs include Artemisia cana, Artemisia tridentata, Atriplex confertifolia, Ericameria nauseosa, Juniperus horizontalis, and Sarcobatus vermiculatus; common grasses include Achnatherum hymenoides, Pseudoroegneria spicata, Pascopyrum smithii (on more mesic sites), and Distichlis spicata (= Distichlis stricta) (in saline seepages). Common forbs include Arenaria hookeri, Artemisia longifolia, Eriogonum pauciflorum, Eriogonum flavum, Iva axillaris, Gutierrezia sarothrae, and Grindelia squarrosa.
Dynamics: Badlands are dry for nearly all of the growing season due to the steep slopes and semi-arid climate in which they occur. Infrequent heavy summer rains can cause notable erosion and contribute substantially to shaping stands of this macrogroup. In southwestern South Dakota, erosion can remove as much as one inch of sediment per year (Stoffer 2003).
Environmental Description: Badlands by definition have soft, erodible bedrock at or near the surface. A combination of additional factors, such as elevation, rainfall, carving action of streams, and parent material, can contribute to the development of badlands. Sites where they develop have strongly dissected landscapes and steep slopes. This macrogroup contains extremely dry and easily erodible, consolidated clayey soils with bands of sandstone or isolated consolidates. This macrogroup is found within an arid to semi-arid climate with infrequent, but torrential, rains that cause erosion. Where the associated bedrock is marine in origin, substrates may be slightly to highly saline in nature.
Geographic Range: This macrogroup is found in the northern Great Plains region of the United States and Canada with some extensive examples in western North Dakota, southwestern South Dakota, southeastern Montana, southern Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Nations: CA, US
States/Provinces: AB, CO, MB?, MT, ND, NE, SD, SK, WY
US Forest Service Ecoregions (2007)
Domain Name:
Division Name:
Province Name: Great Plains - Palouse Dry Steppe Province
Province Code: 331    Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: Western Great Plains Section
Section Code: 331F     Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Omernik Ecoregions:
Plot Analysis Summary:
Confidence Level: High
Confidence Level Comments:
Grank: GNR
Concept Lineage:
Obsolete Names:
Obsolete Parents:
Synonomy: = Badlands and River Breaks (Barker and Whitman 1989)
Concept Author(s): Faber-Langendoen et al. (2014)
Author of Description: J. Drake
Version Date: 15Oct2014
  • Adams, B. W., J. Richman, L. Poulin-Klein, K. France, D. Moisey, and R. L. McNeil. 2013. Range plant communities and range health assessment guidelines for the dry mixedgrass natural subregion of Alberta. Second approximation. Publication No. T/040. Rangeland Management Branch, Policy Division, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. Lethbridge, AB.
  • Barker, W. T., and W. C. Whitman. 1989. Vegetation of the northern Great Plains. Rangelands 10(6):266-272.
  • Brown, R. W. 1971. Distribution of plant communities in southeastern Montana badlands. The American Midland Naturalist 85(2):458-477.
  • Comer, P., D. Faber-Langendoen, R. Evans, S. Gawler, C. Josse, G. Kittel, S. Menard, C. Nordman, M. Pyne, M. Reid, M. Russo, K. Schulz, K. Snow, J. Teague, and R. White. 2003-present. Ecological systems of the United States: A working classification of U.S. terrestrial systems. NatureServe, Arlington, VA.
  • Faber-Langendoen, D., J. Drake, S. Gawler, M. Hall, C. Josse, G. Kittel, S. Menard, C. Nordman, M. Pyne, M. Reid, L. Sneddon, K. Schulz, J. Teague, M. Russo, K. Snow, and P. Comer, editors. 2010-2019a. Divisions, Macrogroups and Groups for the Revised U.S. National Vegetation Classification. NatureServe, Arlington, VA. plus appendices. [in preparation]
  • Stoffer, P. W. 2003. Geology of Badlands National Park: A preliminary report. U.S. Geological Survey Report 2003-35. U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Thorpe, J. 2007a. Saskatchewan Rangeland Ecosystems Publication 11: Communities on the Badlands Ecosite. Saskatchewan Prairie Conservation Action Plan. Saskatchewan Research Council Publication No. 11881-11E07. 8 pp.