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Ecoregion Description

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Species Richness

# of Endemic Species


146: Central Prairie

Major Habitat Type:

temperate upland rivers


Text modified from Abell et al. 2000. Freshwater Ecoregions of North America: A Conservation Assessment. Island Press, Washington, DC, USA.


United States


This ecoregion includes central and southwestern Missouri, southeastern Kansas, northwestern Oklahoma, and a portion of northwestern Arkansas.

Drainages flowing into:

The Missouri River is the largest tributary of the Mississippi River. This ecoregion drains the basins of the lower Missouri towards its confluence with the Mississippi River near St. Louis, MO (Robison 1986).

Main rivers or other water bodies:

This ecoregion is defined by the watersheds of several rivers, including the upper portion of the Arkansas River and its tributary the Neosho River, and the lower Missouri River and its tributary the Osage River.


The ecoregion includes two notable landforms that include the gently sloping Flint Hills in the western portion of the ecoregion and the Osage Plains, characterized as a series of parallel escarpments separated by rolling plains. Elevations in the Flint Hills range between 90-150 m (TNC-OPFHPEPT 2000).


The ecoregion experiences hot continental summers and cold winters, with periodic arctic blasts. Mean annual precipitation varies from 620 to 1050 mm across much of the ecoregion, and mean annual temperature ranges from 10 to 17 oC (TNC-OPFHPEPT 2000).

Freshwater habitats:

Most of the streams and rivers in the ecoregion are meandering with low to moderate flow (McNab & Avers 1994).

Terrestrial Habitats:

Tallgrass praire is dominant in the western section of the ecorgegion in the area of the Flint Hills, and grades to oak-hickory communities as one moves eastward (Ricketts et al. 1999).

Fish Fauna:

The diversity of species in this ecoregion is high relative to the Middle and Upper Missouri ecoregions [143, 142] due to the presence of diverse habitats that were not interrupted during glacial periods. Similarly, species diversity declines as one moves westward along the Arkansas River. A few of the resident species of the lower Missouri that do not extend upstream include lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), bigeye shiner (Notropis boops),  striped shiner (Luxilus chrysocephalus), silver redhorse (Moxostoma anisurum), and blackstripe topminnow (Fundulus notatus) (Cross et al. 1986).

Description of endemic fishes:

The Central Prairie ecoregion is characterized by relatively low endemism of aquatic species. Fish species include the Niangua darter (Etheostoma nianguae), the bluestripe darter (Percina cymatotaenia), and the Missouri saddled darter (Etheostoma tetrazonum), all endemic to the Osage and Gasconade watersheds. Also endemic is the Neosho madtom (Noturus placidus) in the middle Arkansas River (Cross et al. 1986).

Other noteworthy fishes:

One species of interest is the Ozark cavefish (Amblyopsis rosae), a federally endangered species. The fish’s range is limited to a small area where Arkansas and Oklahoma meet. It prefers caves where bat colonies exist, such as Cave Springs Cave, where the endangered gray bat (Myotis grisescens) breeds (The Nature Conservancy 1996).

Other noteworthy aquatic biotic elements:

This ecoregion also includes one endemic mussel, one endemic aquatic herpetofauna species (the frog Eurycea tynerusis), and a remarkable 13 endemic crayfish, including the prairie crayfish (Procambarus gracilis), often found considerable distances from surface water in the grasslands (McDonald 1996).

Justification for delineation:

Ecoregion boundaries are taken from Abell et al. (2000) and are based on subregions defined by Maxwell et al. (1995).


Abell, R., Olson, D., et al. (2000). "Freshwater ecoregions of North America" Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

Cross, F.B., R.L. Mayden and J.D. Stewart (1986)"Fishes in the western Mississippi drainage" In Hocutt, C.H.a.E.O.W. (Ed.). The zoogeography of North American freshwater fishes. (pp. 363-412) New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Maxwell, J. R., Edwards, C. J., et al. (1995) "A hierarchical framework of aquatic ecological units in North America (Nearctic Zone)". St. Paul, MN. North Central Forest Experiment Station, USDA Forest Service.

McDonald, S. (1996). "Crayfish"

McNab, W. H.,Avers, P. E. (1994) "Ecological subregions of the United States". U.S. Forest Service, ECOMAP Team, WO-WSA-5. Online.

Ricketts, Taylor H. Dinerstein Eric Olson David M. Loucks Colby J. (1999). "Terrestrial ecoregions of North America: A conservation assessment" Washington, D.C.: World Wildlife Fund.

Robison, H. W. (1986)"Zoogeographic implications of the Mississippi River Basin" In Hocutt, C.H.;Wiley, E.O. (Ed.). The zoogeography of North American freshwater fishes. (pp. 267-285) New York, New York, USA: Wiley.

The Nature Conservancy, Osage Plains/Flint Hills Prairie Ecoregional Planning Team (2000) "Eocregional Conservation in the Osage Plains/Flint Hills Prairie". Minneapolis, MN. The Nature Conservancy, Midwestern Resource Office.

The Nature, Conservancy (1996). "Troubled waters: Protecting our aquatic heritage" Arlington, Virginia, USA: Conservation Science.

The Nature Conservancy World Wildlife Fund
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