Vegetation maps including the upper Midwest generally show two basic vegetation formations: prairie and forest (Vestal 1936, Shelford 1963, Anderson 1970, Iverson et al. 1991). The sharp dividing boundaries implied are more a matter of convenience of scale and difficulties in mapping variable boundaries than a reflection of reality. Of course, the fires that contributed largely to the maintenance of the tallgrass prairies of this region (Risser et al. 1981, Axelrod 1985) usually did not stop abruptly at a forest border. These fires penetrated beyond the open grassland, often forming structural gradients from open prairie to closed forest. The kinetic quality of the prairie-forest transition zone has challenged our spatialand temporal-scale ecological understanding, yielding variable interpretations of vegetational history (Bielmann and Brenner 1951, Steyermark 1959), distribution (Braun 1950, Anderson 1983, Nuzzo 1986), and classification (White and Madany 1978; Nelson 1985; Faber-Langendoen 1994). A mixture of climatic and landscape conditions, fire history, and biotic interactions results in a mosaic pattern of forest, savanna, and prairie in the Midwest (Kilburn 1959, Anderson 1983) that is considered a prairie-forest ecotone (Barbour et al. 1980).


Tallgrass Prairie American Midland Naturalist Savanna Species Graminoid Species Illinois Natural History Survey 
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Copyright information

© Chapman & Hall 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • John B. Taft
    • 1
  1. 1.Illinois Natural History SurveyChampaignUSA

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