A Deep-Rooted Prairie Myth


Fascinating description here with implications for – among other things – how shrubs can be resilient to drought but susceptible to fire.

The Prairie Ecologist

Anyone familiar with prairies has likely seen drawings and photographs showing the incredibly deep root systems of prairie grasses and other grassland plants.  The prairie ecologist J.E. Weaver, in particular, is well known for his illustrations of long roots extending below prairie plants.  That root depth is frequently held up as a major factor that influences the resilience of prairies in the face of summer drought.  After all, deep roots allow those plants to draw water from far down in the soil profile when rainfall becomes scarce.  It’s one of the defining components of prairie ecosystems.

There’s just one problem.
Prairies don’t actually work that way.

Yes, prairie grasses and wildflowers have very deep roots, but research over the last decade or so has built a strong case against the idea that those plants use their deep roots to find moisture during times of scarcity. In fact, they might not…

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