The Benefits of Prairie

Aerial view of a hilly native Minnesota prairie.Aerial view of a hilly native Minnesota prairie. © Dale Bohlke

Prairie is important in and of itself as an ecosystem that is both complex and diverse. It has evolved over millennia to be ideally adapted to the mid-continental climate of North America. Prairie ecosystems provide essential habitat for native plants and wildlife. They also provide an array of benefits to people, many of which reach beyond property lines. An appreciation of prairie has grown with greater understanding of the intrinsic and societal benefits (ecosystem services) it provides. Prairie that is within a connected complex of natural lands has an enhanced ability to provide the following benefits.

Biodiversity (the variety of life and its processes)

Habitat

  • Produces food, cover, and nesting sites for a wide variety of wildlife
    • Insects have a vital role in the prairie food chain
    • Of special note is the critical habitat prairie provides for pollinators (bees, butterflies, moths, flies, wasps, beetles, etc.)
  • Wildlife and native plants have developed together over thousands of years
  • More about prairie habitat

Clean Water

  • Prairie vegetation captures precipitation carrying it down to the roots, which trap and filter both nutrients and sediment
  • Promotes water infiltration and storage
    • Recharges and filters groundwater
    • Reduces erosion and nutrient runoff
    • Moderates flooding by slowing run-off and maintaining a large water storage capacity
  • Learn about the health of your local watershed, and its health score.

Healthy Soils

  • Following each growing season, prairie plants and roots begin to break down into rich organic matter.
  • Water holding capacity of these rich soils is very high.
  • Extensive root systems deposit carbon into deep soil layers providing carbon sequestration.

Cultural Values

  • Prairies share a long history with Native American communities, this powerful connection to the land continues to have sacred and spiritual significance.
  • Provides a sense of place for people to connect physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually with the prairie's past, present, and future.

Recreation

  • Both residents and visitors to Minnesota's prairies enjoy hiking, camping, birdwatching, hunting, fishing, photography, and other recreational pursuits.

Rural Economies

  • Prairie STRIPS planted into crop fields can increase agricultural productivity and reduce sediment, phosphorus, and nitrogen runoff.
  • Livestock grazing and haying can benefit both the prairie and agriculture production.
  • Visitors coming to the prairie to hunt, fish, and view wildlife spend money on food, lodging, and gas.