The North American Great Plains cover more than 700 million acres and host diverse plants and animals, playing a crucial role in global food production and ecosystem services. However, more than a million acres of prairie are plowed each year, leading to a decline in biodiversity and loss of habitats.

The Great Plains Science Program, part of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, provides knowledge of grassland science needed to support conservation efforts and ensure a sustainable future.

Over 2 billion people directly rely on grasslands for their livelihood worldwide. However, grasslands are some of the least protected landscapes on our planet.

Our strategy to protect America’s grasslands relies on research and partnership building. Our science is frequently co-developed by partners representing federal and state agencies, Native Nations, non-governmental organizations, universities, local communities, and private landowners. 

Together with our partners, we are creating a network of conservationists and researchers dedicated to maintaining the health and resilience of grassland ecosystems for generations to come.


A male Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) hiding amongst the waves in eastern Montana's ocean of grass and sage at American Prairie.

Our Impact

Nóouhàh-Toka’na, known as swift fox in English, once roamed the North American Great Plains from Canada to Texas. But predator control programs in the mid-1900s reduced the foxes to just 10 percent of their native range. 

At the Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana, members of the Aaniiih and Nakoda tribes are working with the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute and other conservation partners to restore biodiversity and return Nóouhàh-Toka’na to the land.

Partnering With Tribal Communities for a Shared Future

We work alongside Tribal Nations and other communities who have deep ties to the region and depend on the land for their livelihoods. 

Through strategic partnerships, the Great Plains Science Program empowers Tribal governments, private landowners and other stakeholders to restore habitat and preserve the cultural heritage of many Native American communities.

Our Strategies

Jesse Boulerice, Hila Shamon and interns setup prairie dog traps to capture and release prairie dogs at American Prairie in Montana

We provide information to help make decisions about conserving and managing grasslands based on the latest science. 

We create innovative ways to study and manage grassland ecosystems through the use of advanced analyses, methods, and technology.

Our science goals:

  • Work to conserve the most imperiled species that rely on grasslands through basic and applied research, management, and species restoration. 
  • Conduct groundbreaking research on grassland ecosystems to better understand their complexity and resilience.
  • Promote new methods and technologies to monitor, analyze, and conserve grasslands effectively.
  • Share our research findings widely to contribute to global knowledge.

Our aim is to increase the collective understanding of grassland ecosystems and prepare the next generation of scientists and practitioners.

Our education goals:

  • Offer advanced education and training through courses, workshops, and online teaching materials.
  • Build skills within partner communities to support natural resource departments through collaboration.
  • Train future conservation biologists through internships and graduate fellowships.

We connect and collaborate with partners, land managers, and local communities to achieve conservation goals.

Our partnership goals:

  • Expand our network of partners by finding common goals and research opportunities that connect various scientific and community members.
  • Establish a lasting, valued presence in the region that is sustainable and supported by the local community.

Who We Are

Meet the Team

Get to know the scientists who are working to understand the Great Plains and  grassland environments across the globe. 

Our Mission and Values

The Great Plains Science Program is dedicated to creating a sustainable future where grassland ecosystems thrive.

Help Us Make a Difference

With your support, Smithsonian scientists can protect grasslands and the wildlife that rely on them for survival. Help us make an impact and conserve our world.