Many native crops across America's prairies that were once integral to the diets of Indigenous peoples vanished from the landscape when bison herds were hunted to the brink of extinction. Now, with bison herds reintroduced, the crops are gradually recovering.
As bison herds are reintroduced to prairie lands, such as Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, many of these long lost crops are making a comeback. Tallgrass spans 40,000 acres and is now home to around 2,500 bison and researchers from Washington University in St. Louis are delighted to be finding successful propagation in the animals’ wake after years of failed seed collection and planting attempts.
The researchers followed signs of grazing and trampling to search for sprouts of “lost crops” like little barley (Hordeum pusillum) and maygrass (Phalaris caroliniana). They found seeds thriving in a way they had never been able to simulate in a garden.
Bison are what researcher Natalie Mueller calls “co-creators.” Their turning, rooting, and grazing of the land coupled with migration help give rise to greater diversity and more agricultural opportunities. This, coupled with indigenous practices like controlled burns (which they first started doing around 6,000 years ago), helped keep plant populations thriving and regenerating.
The bison’s return to their natural habitat is, happily, reviving these plants and giving researchers more of an opportunity to study them. They are also helping once again bring diversity to these prairies.
Bison Returning to England: They haven’t roamed the country for thousands of years, but bison are poised to return to English woodland as part of a £1m rewilding project in Blean Woods, Kent. European bison are being used in this project because they are ecosystem engineers, meaning that they are able to change their environment through their natural behaviours. Bison can change woodlands in a way that no other animal can, they eat bark and create dust baths which each have benefits for many plants and animals, these are functions that have been missing from our UK woodlands for thousands of years and bringing them back can help restore an abundance of wildlife. More