When a Species is Endangered

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Published on: Jul. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

habitat loss, wet spring weather has reduced brood success and increased predation associated with our modern fragmented landscape. The outlook for prairie-chickens is indeed poor.

How many prairie-chickens lived in Missouri historically? No one can say for certain, but surely prairie-chickens numbered in the hundreds of thousands. The prairie-chicken formerly existed in every prairie county of Missouri, and additional populations were scattered throughout the grassy ridges of the Ozarks. What we see today is easily less than one percent of the number that once lived here. This native bird is endangered.


Western prairie fringed orchid numbers have never been lower in Missouri. Unlike prairie-chickens, however, there is almost no population monitoring history to work from. We know of only three remaining populations in Missouri. All persist on small remnant tallgrass prairies in north Missouri. As best we can determine, there are fewer than 100 plants at these three sites. There are probably seeds hidden in the seed bank, but how many and how long they will remain viable is anyone's guess.

How many prairie fringed orchids lived in Missouri historically? We have a good indication of their range because records confirm this species grew as far north as the Iowa border and as far south as the Springfield area. Within this range they probably were scattered and sometimes locally abundant. A botanist in Jackson County indicated that this species was "generally uncommon" in the early 1900s.

The current populations are probably stable, but population monitoring has been conducted for only a few years--too short a time to indicate a trend. Threats are minimal to two of the remaining populations because they are managed on public land. The third, on private property, has a reasonable level of security through cooperative management with the landowner.

Rangewide, this species is threatened by habitat loss, overgrazing, poorly timed hay mowing, wetland draining and improper use of pesticides. Pollination by large sphinx moths is an essential part of their life history, but it is uncertain whether there are enough plants at any of these sites to attract pollinators. There are few remaining plants in Missouri. Restoration of sufficient habitat and the knowledge and public support to reintroduce this species back to these habitats seems unlikely.

Fewer than one percent of the potential prairie habitat remains, and though two sites are protected, the remaining population is small and vulnerable. This native plant is endangered.

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Endangered is an unfortunate condition. Addition to

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