Habitat is where an animal lives. It must contain food, water, shelter, and space in an arrangement that benefits the animal. Each animal has different habitat requirements. Some may need a special food or a certain amount of space to survive. Iowa has a variety of habitats that support a diversity of wildlife species. We must protect, conserve, and expand Iowa’s remaining habitats in order to preserve and enhance the present diversity of wildlife.
Iowa has diverse forests that provide a wide range of wildlife habitat. Forests support a wide array of birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, and reptiles.
- Iowa’s Nature Series – Forests – Explore Iowa’s forest ecosystems and the critical roles they play in our environment, economy, and quality of life.
- Iowa State University Forestry Extension – A brief history of Iowa’s forests.
Savannas and prairies are adapted to periodic fires and dry, sunny conditions in Iowa’s plains and the Loess Hills. Prairie once was the dominant habitat in Iowa with savannas dotting the expanse of tall prairie grasses. Each habitat had its own unique community of plants and animals.
- Iowa’s Nature Series – Prairies – Iowa, like no other state in the U.S., is defined by its tallgrass prairies — take a deep dive into those prairie ecosystems, learning about the cast of plants, animals, and people dependent on them and how people today are working to manage and protect this critical ecosystem.
- Iowa Department of Transportation: Iowa Living Roadway Trust Fund – Iowa’s native prairie plant database.
- Iowa Prairie Network – Information about local ecotype (from nearby prairie remnants) seed and why it is important.
Edge is an area of transition between two or more distinct habitats. The most distinct edge habitat is between forest and grassland. The edge of a forest receives more sunlight than under the forest canopy, so more shrubs and grasses are found here.
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources – An article (pdf) on edge habitat, it’s benefits as well as how to manage these areas for wildlife.
Iowa has several aquatic communities, each with their own distinct plants and animals. Wetlands, lakes and ponds, and rivers and streams are typical aquatic habitats in Iowa. Government agencies and private organizations are taking steps to assure water quality and conserve these crucial aquatic habitats.
- Iowa’s Nature Series – Aquatic Environments – From the ephemeral pool of a prairie pothole to the giant pools of the mighty Mississippi, Iowa’s lands are defined by their diverse, and critically important aquatic ecosystems.
Wetlands have saturated soil for various lengths of time during the growing season. They vary in shape, size, and location. They usually are low spots in the land where water gathers naturally. Depressions created as the last glaciers receded thousands of years ago make the most common kind of wetland in Iowa, prairie potholes.
- US-EPA: Wetlands – General information about wetlands.
- USGS: Wetlands and Aquatic Research Center – Wetlands information with data and research for professionals and the public.
- EPA: Prairie Potholes – General information about prairie potholes.
- USDA: Natural Resources Conservation Service – Wetlands – General information about wetlands.
- Iowa DNR: Wetlands – Information about wetlands in Iowa and wetland monitoring.
Lakes and Ponds
Lakes and ponds are deeper and have less standing vegetation than wetlands. Iowa has more than 87,000 farm ponds, mostly in the southern two-thirds of the state. Naturally occurring lakes are found in northwest and north-central Iowa, but most lakes are formed by damming rivers, streams, or valleys. Many plants and animals found in wetlands are found in these waters also. Lakes generally have a more diverse fishery than ponds because they are larger and the water is deeper. They also provide brood rearing and resting areas for migratory birds.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Iowa’s Lakes, Ponds, and Reservoirs – Lake details for Iowa lakes. Searchable. Includes fishing reports, maps, and popular fish species found at each lake.
- The USGS Water Science School: Lakes and Reservoirs – General information about lakes and reservoirs.
- USGS: Surface Water Information – Main page for surface water information. Includes links to USGS sites that contain data and information to learn more about surface water movement and condition.
- Lake Scientist: Lake Facts – Differences between bodies of water. For example, the difference between lakes and ponds.
- Iowa Lakes, Rivers, and Water Resources – Maps of Iowa streams and rivers – includes locations and water levels. Iowa drought maps. Iowa water publications.
Rivers and Streams
Rivers and streams are abundant in Iowa and support a variety of plants and animals. Many Iowa river corridors are lined by trees. These provide roosts for bald eagles, herons, and other fish-eating birds. Bank swallows commonly bore holes for their homes in river banks. River otters hunt for fish. Beavers build dams that create new wetland habitats.
River fish and plants are well equipped for life in flowing water. Plants are firmly anchored. Smallmouth bass, northern pike, and channel catfish have streamlined bodies, reducing their resistance to the current.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Interior Rivers – Brief description of Iowa’s rivers and streams. Links to recreation atlas and water trails maps and brochures. Includes information about the safety of eating Iowa caught fish.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Trout Streams – Iowa trout stream information. Includes detailed information by stream. Searchable. Includes directions, maps, fishing report, and popular fish species found in each.
- The USGS Water Science School – Earth’s Water: Rivers and Streams – General information about rivers and streams.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Mississippi River – Detailed information about the Mississippi River. Links to detailed information about each pool of the Mississippi River.
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources: Missouri River – General information about the Missouri River. Includes common fish species caught in the Missouri River.
- Iowa Flood Information System – This is a one-stop web-platform to access community-based flood conditions, forecasts, visualizations, inundation maps and flood-related information, visualizations and applications.
- See also, Iowa Supplement to Aquatic WILD, Iowa’s Waters.
Human-built environments can provide habitat for animals. These can include agricultural lands, yards, and even urban areas.
- Iowa State University Extension: Forestry – Information about windbreaks and their benefits.
- Iowa State University Extension: Forestry – Information about tree farming in Iowa.
- National Wildlife Federation: Garden for Wildlife – Creating and certifying wildlife habitat in your own backyard.
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources – Landscaping With Native Plants – Learn about how to use native plants for small-scale landscaping or gardening.
- US Fish & Wildlife Service – Schoolyard Habitats – A planing guide for creating schoolyard habitat and outdoor classroom projects (PDF).
Habitat: Quality, Quantity, and Arrangement
Habitat includes food, water, shelter, and space. The numbers and kinds of wildlife in an area are directly related to the quality, quantity, and arrangement of the habitat.
Habitat Fragmentation and Loss
- Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS): Habitat Fragmentation – An NRCS publication (PDF) discussing habitat fragmentation.
Succession in a plant community can be defined as a process of change in the species composition of the community over time. Succession is ongoing.
- PhysicalGeography.net: Plant Succession – An introduction to succession in a plant community, including what occurs in each stage..
Habitat arrangement can greatly affect survival rates of certain animals. An animal might have to travel long distances, possibly crossing open, unsheltered areas, to get water–exposing it to predation. Locating food sources and thick cover or sheltered areas near one another and close to a water source can increase winter survival for pheasants and other wildlife. Biologists consider habitat size, composition, and arrangement when developing management plans for different species.
Activities listed below are from the Project WILD guide and relevant to Iowa. Activities with supplemental information are linked below. Use the supplemental information in conjunction with the Project WILD activity.
- Animal Poetry (5-8)
- Beautiful Basics (K-4)
- Career Critters (5-8)
- Changing the Land (5-8)
- Everybody Needs a Home (K-4)
- Fire Ecologies (9-12)
- From Bison to Bread: The American Prairie (9-12)
- Graphananimal (Pre-K, K-4)
- Habitat Lap Sit (5-8)
- Habitat Rummy (5-8)
- Habitracks (K-4)
- Habitrekking (K-4)
- Improving Wildlife Habitat in the Community (5-8)
- Migration Barriers (5-8)
- My Kingdom for a Shelter (5-8)
- Planting Animals (5-8)
- Rainfall and the Forest (5-8)
- Shrinking Habitat (5-8)
- Urban Nature Search (5-8)
- What Bear (Bird) Goes Where? (K-4)
- Which Niche? (5-8)
- Who Fits Here? (5-8)