The Grasslands Synthesis Project: 2020 - 2023

Grasslands in the northern Great Plains are important ecosystems that support local economies, tribal communities, livestock grazing, diverse plant and animal communities, and large-scale migrations of big game ungulates, grassland birds, and waterfowl. Climate change and variability impact how people and animals live on and interact with grasslands, and can bring more frequent droughts, fires, or new plant species that make managing these landscapes challenging. Understanding how climate change and variability will impact grassland ecosystems and their management in the 21st century first requires a synthesis of what is known across all of these scales and a gap analysis to identify key areas to focus future research.

Researchers have addressed this need by conducting a series of synthesis efforts to 

(1) identify and describe known management questions and information needs of grasslands managers;

(2) assess the state-of-the-science on climate change and variability in the northern Great Plains region;

(3) describe ecological responses to climate variability and change across the grasslands, including tipping points, changing fire patterns, spreading invasive species, changing species distributions, habitat fragmentation, and other changes in ecological communities. 

This project supports resource managers by providing them with the scientific information needed to make best-practice management decisions about northern Great Plains grasslands and will foster relationships with the conservation and management organizations that will utilize this science to make decisions about public lands.


In grassland ecosystems, herbaceous invasive species decrease native species diversity, reduce forage quality and quantity for animals, alter habitat structure, and affect nutrient cycling and availability.
Increased woody cover has led to a direct loss of grasslands and their ecosystem services - in particular, quality forage for livestock grazing.

Climate change will have different impacts on different species and groups of species of plants.

Fire is an important natural disturbance process in grassland ecosystems.

Climate change not only impacts temperature and precipitation, but also water availability.

Learn more about how shifting temperatures and precipitation patterns will affect the North Central US grasslands.