Rare animals
Find rare and non-game animals.
Rare plants
Learn about plants on the Natural Heritage Working List.
Rare lichens
Discover Wisconsin's lichens.
Natural communities
Explore Wisconsin's natural communities.
Other features
Discover unique resources.
Contact information
For information on Wisconsin's natural communities, contact:
Ryan O'Connor
Natural Heritage Inventory Ecologist

Dry-mesic Prairie

State Rank: S2     Global Rank: G3   what are these ranks?


Detailed Community Description from Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin

General natural community overview

Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for Dry-mesic Prairie in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database.

Historically, this grassland community was common in parts of southern Wisconsin, occurring on slightly less droughty sites than dry prairie. Today, this community type is rare because of conversion of land to agricultural uses or the encroachment of woody vegetation due to the lack of wildfire. Dry-mesic prairie has many of the same grasses as dry prairie but is dominated by taller species such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans). Needle grass (Stipa spartea) and prairie drop-seed (Sporobolus heterolepis) may also be present. The herb component is more diverse than in dry prairies, as it may include many species that occur in both dry and mesic prairies. Composites and legumes are particularly well-represented in relatively undisturbed stands.

Soils are often somewhat sandy, either loamy sands or sandy loams. The landscape associations that can support this type include terraces on the margins of large river valleys, sandy outwash deposits, gravelly moraines, and the lower slopes of Driftless Area bluffs. As with the other tallgrass prairie communities (mesic prairie and wet-mesic prairie), well over 99% of this prairie type has been lost.

Rare animals

Species of Greatest Conservation Need

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

The following Species of Greatest Conservation Need are listed according to their level of association with the Dry-mesic Prairie natural community type, based on the findings in Wisconsin's 2015 Wildlife Action Plan.

Scores: 3 = high association, 2 = moderate association, and 1 = low association. See the key to association scores for complete definitions.

Ants, wasps, and beesScore
American Bumble BeeBombus pensylvanicus2
Silphium Terminal Gall WaspAntistrophus silphii2
Yellow Bumble BeeBombus fervidus2
A Cuckoo BeeEpeolus ainsliei1
An Anthophorid BeeNeolarra vigilans1
Confusing Bumble BeeBombus perplexus1
Rusty-patched Bumble BeeBombus affinis1

Aquatic and terrestrial snailsScore
Smooth CoilHelicodiscus singleyanus3
Trumpet ValloniaVallonia parvula2
Wing SnaggletoothGastrocopta procera1

A Colaspis Leaf BeetleColaspis suggona3
A Leaf BeetleSaxinis omogera3
A Leaf BeetleBassareus lituratus3
A Case-bearing Leaf BeetleTriachus vacuus2
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis peccans2
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis atomarius2
A Leaf BeetleGlyptina brunnea2
A Leaf BeetleBrachypnoea convexa2
A Pear-shaped WeevilCoelocephalapion decoloratum2
A Leaf BeetlePachybrachis luridus1
A Leaf BeetleCryptocephalus cuneatus1
A Pear-shaped WeevilTrichapion perforicolle1
A Pear-shaped WeevilSayapion segnipes1

BobolinkDolichonyx oryzivorus3
DickcisselSpiza americana3
Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna3
Grasshopper SparrowAmmodramus savannarum3
Greater Prairie-ChickenTympanuchus cupido3
Henslow's SparrowAmmodramus henslowii3
Upland SandpiperBartramia longicauda3
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta3
Bell's VireoVireo bellii2
Brewer's BlackbirdEuphagus cyanocephalus2
Common NighthawkChordeiles minor2
Loggerhead ShrikeLanius ludovicianus2
Long-eared OwlAsio otus2
Northern BobwhiteColinus virginianus2
Sharp-tailed GrouseTympanuchus phasianellus2
Short-eared OwlAsio flammeus2
Vesper SparrowPooecetes gramineus2
Yellow-breasted ChatIcteria virens1

Butterflies and mothsScore
Phlox MothSchinia indiana3
A Noctuid MothDichagyris reliqua2
Abbreviated Underwing MothCatocala abbreviatella2
Byssus SkipperProblema byssus2
Cross Line SkipperPolites origenes2
Leadplant Flower MothSchinia lucens2
Liatris Borer MothPapaipema beeriana2
Ottoe SkipperHesperia ottoe2
Regal FritillarySpeyeria idalia2
Whitney's Underwing MothCatocala whitneyi2
Columbine Dusky WingErynnis lucilius1
Dusted SkipperAtrytonopsis hianna1
Gorgone Checker SpotChlosyne gorgone1
Karner BlueLycaeides melissa samuelis1
Mottled Dusky WingErynnis martialis1
Silphium Borer MothPapaipema silphii1

Grasshoppers and alliesScore
Velvet-striped GrasshopperEritettix simplex3
Gladston's Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus gladstoni2
Green-streak GrasshopperHesperotettix viridis2
Handsome GrasshopperSyrbula admirabilis2
Mermiria GrasshopperMermiria bivittata2
Obscure GrasshopperOpeia obscura2
Plains Yellow-winged GrasshopperArphia simplex2
Short-winged GrasshopperDichromorpha viridis2
Showy GrasshopperHesperotettix speciosus2
Speckled Rangeland GrasshopperArphia conspersa2
Spotted-winged GrasshopperOrphulella pelidna2
Blue-legged GrasshopperMelanoplus flavidus1
Club-horned GrasshopperAeropedellus clavatus1
Grizzly Spur-throat GrasshopperMelanoplus punctulatus1
Scudder's Short-winged GrasshopperMelanoplus scudderi1
Stone's LocustMelanoplus stonei1

Leafhoppers and true bugsScore
A LeafhopperMemnonia panzeri3
A LeafhopperCuerna sayi3
A LeafhopperAttenuipyga vanduzeei3
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius nebulosus3
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius altus3
A LeafhopperParaphlepsius maculosus3
A LeafhopperPrairiana kansana3
A PlanthopperMyndus ovatus3
An Issid PlanthopperFitchiella robertsonii3
An Issid PlanthopperBruchomorpha extensa3
Prairie LeafhopperPolyamia dilata3
Red-tailed Prairie LeafhopperAflexia rubranura3
Yellow Loosestrife LeafhopperErythroneura carbonata3
A LeafhopperDriotura robusta2
A LeafhopperKansendria kansiensis2
A LeafhopperLaevicephalus vannus2
A LeafhopperPrairiana cinerea2
A PlanthopperRhynchomitra microrhina2
Piglet BugAphelonema simplex2
A LeafhopperPrairiana angustens1
A Seed BugSlaterobius quadristriata1

Franklin's Ground SquirrelPoliocitellus franklinii3
Prairie Deer MousePeromyscus maniculatus bairdii2
Big Brown BatEptesicus fuscus1
Prairie VoleMicrotus ochrogaster1

Butler's GartersnakeThamnophis butleri3
Eastern MassasaugaSistrurus catenatus3
GophersnakePituophis catenifer3
Plains GartersnakeThamnophis radix3
Prairie Ring-necked SnakeDiadophis punctatus arnyi3
Prairie SkinkPlestiodon septentrionalis3
Slender Glass LizardOphisaurus attenuatus3
Blanding's TurtleEmydoidea blandingii2
Gray RatsnakePantherophis spiloides2
Lined SnakeTropidoclonion lineatum2
North American RacerColuber constrictor2
Ornate Box TurtleTerrapene ornata2
Timber RattlesnakeCrotalus horridus2
Wood TurtleGlyptemys insculpta2
Six-lined RacerunnerAspidoscelis sexlineata1
Western RibbonsnakeThamnophis proximus1
Western WormsnakeCarphophis vermis1

Please see Section 2. Approach and Methods of the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Rare plants

The Natural Heritage Inventory has developed scores indicating the degree to which each of Wisconsin's rare plant species is associated with a particular natural community or ecological landscape. This information is similar to that found in the Wildlife Action Plan for animals. As this is a work in progress, we welcome your suggestions and feedback.

Scores: 3 = "significantly associated," 2 = "moderately associated," and 1 = "minimally associated."
Scientific Name Common Name Score
Anticlea elegans ssp. glaucus White Camas 3
Callirhoe triangulata Clustered Poppy-mallow 1
Cirsium hillii Hill's Thistle 2
Cuscuta pentagona Field Dodder 3
Echinacea pallida Pale Purple Coneflower 3
Houstonia caerulea Azure Bluets 2
Hypericum prolificum Shrubby St. John's-wort 2
Lespedeza leptostachya Prairie Bush Clover 3
Liatris punctata var. nebraskana Dotted Blazing Star 1
Packera plattensis Prairie Ragwort 2
Paronychia canadensis Smooth Forked Nail-wort 1
Pediomelum esculentum Prairie Turnip 2
Penstemon hirsutus Hairy Beardtongue 3
Penstemon pallidus Pale Beardtongue 2
Polygala incarnata Pink Milkwort 2
Prenanthes aspera Rough Rattlesnake-root 3
Ruellia humilis Hairy Wild Petunia 3
Scleria triglomerata Whip Nutrush 1
Sisyrinchium albidum White Blue-eyed-grass 2
Thaspium trifoliatum var. flavum Purple Meadow Parsnip 1
Valeriana edulis var. ciliata Hairy Valerian 2


The following Ecological Landscapes have the best opportunities to manage for Dry-mesic Prairie, based on the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin Handbook.

Map of the Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin.

Major (3 on map)
A major opportunity for sustaining the natural community in the Ecological Landscape exists, either because many significant occurrences of the natural community have been recorded in the landscape or major restoration activities are likely to be successful maintaining the community's composition, structure, and ecological function over a longer period of time.

Important (2 on map)
Although the natural community does not occur extensively or commonly in the Ecological Landscape, one to several occurrences do occur and are important in sustaining the community in the state. In some cases, important opportunities may exist because the natural community may be restricted to just one or a few Ecological Landscapes within the state and there may be a lack of opportunities elsewhere.

Present (1 on map)
The natural community occurs in the Ecological Landscape, but better management opportunities appear to exist in other parts of the state.


Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

What are conservation actions?

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for natural communities


The following are additional considerations for Dry-mesic Prairie in Ecological Landscapes with opportunities for protection, restoration, and/or management. For more information, see the Wildlife Action Plan.

Central Sand Plains

The type is very rare in the Ecological Landscape. Most of the few occurrences that have been documented are in rights-of-way, and have been seriously degraded by the encroachment of woody plants and colonization by invasive weeds. There may be limited opportunities for restoration and expansion in this Ecological Landscape, but the priority and feasibility of these have not been adequately assessed. An example is found at Mill Bluff State Park (Juneau County).

Southeast Glacial Plains

Historically common in this Ecological Landscape, the type is now very limited in extent, but there are more opportunities here than in most other Ecological Landscapes. The relatively flat topography of the Ecological Landscape led to extensive conversion of prairie to agriculture. Areas that are sandy, relatively infertile, steeply sloping, or where bedrock is near the surface, were less likely to have been plowed. Such sites are where most remnants are found. Most examples are along the southeastern edge of the Ecological Landscape near the relatively rugged Kettle Moraine, and in the southernmost portion of the Ecological Landscape that was not glaciated during the Wisconsin Ice Age. Elsewhere, most of the remnants are restricted to rights-of-way. Urban expansion is occurring in some locations, especially near larger cities, and can further impact prairie remnants and limit the opportunity to manage with prescribed fire. Many dry-mesic prairie remnants exist, however acreage is not extensive (e.g., Westport Drumlin Prairie (Dane County), Arlington Prairie and Hawk Hill (Columbia County), Muralt Bluff Prairie and Oliver Prairie (Green County)). Most of the high-quality remnants are being protected and managed appropriately. Opportunities to connect remnants and expand grasslands that can be managed compatibly with prairies should be sought. Grazing is not occurring on the quality remnants at this time.

Southwest Savanna

Historically common in this Ecological Landscape, the type is now limited in extent. Conversion to agriculture has occurred throughout the Ecological Landscape, but there are important opportunities for restoration in large acreages of pasture that have never been plowed. Methods of grazing that are compatible with grassland management objectives should be studied and developed. Large-scale prescribed burning, or other means of reducing woody vegetation or weeds, may be needed. Urban expansion is occurring in some locations and can impact prairie remnants and limit the opportunity to manage with prescribed fire. Underwood Prairie (Iowa County), Mud Branch Prairie (Lafayette County), and Green's Cemetery Prairie (Green County) are examples of this type.

Western Coulee and Ridges

Historically common in this Ecological Landscape, the type is now limited in extent. It is occasionally found on wider ridge tops, below dry prairies on lower hill slopes, and on terraces along larger rivers. The flatter topography where this community type occurred was more extensively converted to agriculture and residential development, but there are still important opportunities for restoration. Urban expansion is occurring in locations around larger cities. Examples of this type are found at Black Earth Prairie State Natural Area (Dane County), Avoca Prairie State Natural Area (Iowa County), Midway Railroad Prairie State Natural Area (La Crosse County), La Crosse River Trail Prairie State Natural Area (Monroe County), and Snake Bluff (Juneau County).

Western Prairie

The type is extremely rare in the Ecological Landscape because of the almost total conversion of prairie to agricultural uses. Urban expansion is occurring and increasing rapidly throughout the Ecological Landscape. A few sites on Waterfowl Production Areas are suited for restoration. Examples are found at Bass Lake Prairie, Ulrich Prairie, and Ogburns Prairie (St. Croix County).


Dry-mesic Prairie Photos

Dry-mesic Prairie Photo

Dry-mesic prairie within an active railroad right of way. La Crosse River Trail Prairies SNA, La Crosse - Monroe Counties.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Dry-mesic Prairie Photo

Grassland landscape in eastern Iowa County with patches of native prairie, prairie pasture, CRP, and ag lands. Barneveld Prairie.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Dry-mesic Prairie Photo

Dry-mesic prairie, Iowa County, part of the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area.

Photo by Eric Epstein.

Dry-mesic Prairie Photo

This open landscape in SW WI is composed of CRP lands, grassy pastures, hayfields, remnant prairies. Such areas are now very scarce but provide essential habitat for grassland fauna.

Photo by Thomas Meyer.

Dry-mesic Prairie Photo

Dry-mesic prairie. Dane County, Western Coulees and Ridges ecological landscape.

Photo by Thomas Meyer.

Note: photos are provided to illustrate various examples of natural community types. A single photograph cannot represent the range of variability inherent in a given community type. Some of these photos explicitly illustrate unusual and distinctive community variants. The community photo galleries are a work in progress that we will expand and improve in the future.

Last revised: Tuesday, August 30, 2022