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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Researchers say climate change could reduce an important forage grass in Kansas and other Great Plains states to less than half its current stature during the next 75 years.

Studies involving Kansas State University faculty indicate that revision of the climate would potentially shrink the plant size of big bluestem grass by 60 percent. The grass usually ranges from 4 feet (1.2 meters) to 6 feet (1.8 meters) in height in Kansas pastures, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported .

Researchers said that kind of reduction would disrupt the region’s livestock economy because big bluestem grass covers millions of acres.

“Our results predict that climate change could greatly impact the tallgrass prairie as we currently know it, reducing forage for cattle in the drier parts of grasslands, in places like Kansas,” said Loretta Johnson, professor of biology at Kansas State University.

Scientists believe most of the transformation would be driven by the change in rainfall rather than temperature.

Researchers at Kansas State, Southern Illinois University and Missouri Botanical Garden participated in several years of work on species modeling, plant growth studies and climatology. Scientists focused on big bluestem because it’s a plentiful grass in natural and restored prairies. Researchers said the grass makes up 70 percent of plant biomass in some areas.

“If smaller forms come to dominate, it could cause a fundamental shift in the habitat and ecosystem services prairies provide, such as forage for cattle,” said Adam Smith, the botanical garden’s assistant scientist in global change.

Researchers said landowners making decisions about livestock production and prairie restoration may have to adjust their perspective on which plants would thrive in new growing conditions.

Implications of the research extend beyond Great Plains states because scientists believe taller forms of bluestem grass could grow in the Great Lakes.

The study was reported in the journal Global Change Biology.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal,