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  Iowa's Biological Diversity


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Microscopic life
Vascular plants
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Aquatic snails
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People and Biological Diversity

Iowa, even in its most pristine condition, never had the biological diversity that is present in the coral reefs or the tropical rain forests. However, we still have some neat stuff. We have already lost a lot of our biological diversity, and are still losing it. A lot of our biological diversity is present in small fragmented “islands”—two or three acres of tall grass prairie, small areas of never drained wetland, short stretches of undamaged waterways, and small patches of timber, where before the invasion of settlers the areas were large.

Many of our species are not “extinct”, but they are “extirpated” (removed from the area that they used to be found). Extirpated is almost as bad as extinct.

The Poweshiek skipper is extirpated from Iowa, or possibly almost extirpated.

There is a surprising amount of information about the biological diversity of Iowa. Various lists have been compiled, and a lot of information is available on the internet. For example, there are lists of species for Iowa vascular plants, bryophytes, fungi, lichens, birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, and several groups of insects. There are lists from some of the neighboring states of other groups—crustaceans and annelids, for example. The lists have varying degrees of accuracy, and sometimes represent different time frames.

Some groups of organisms have almost no information published about them. This can be true for regional or state checklists, and there can be a lack of information in general about the group. Take for example the terrestrial snails.  There are no field guides to terrestrial snails currently in publication.  The most recent were published in the early 1960s, making them fifty years old or older.  Comparing old field guides and other information shows a lot of scientific names have changed over time.   I have put together a list from various sources--it is a work in progress, and can be found on the terrestrial snail page.

Much of the work being done with some of the little-known groups (in fact, one could argue most of the work being done) is done by amateurs with no real institutional or financial support. The work is generally high quality but does not continue after that individual is gone. There is a real need in Iowa for more of the work with biological diversity to have some kind of institutional support. This can include support for collections as well as data in general. There is also a need for financial support for the production of guidebooks aimed at the general public about various aspects of Iowa's biological diversity.

Watch this site for more information. Hopefully more can be provided later. Descriptions are provided for some of the groups, as are references for more information.

The Illinois Natural History Survey has published an interesting list, which can be found here:


This is a list the numbers of species of all the known groups found in Illinois. It can be used to estimate the number of species of the same group that can be found in Iowa, and can be compared with known species lists for the different states.

Finally, you could ask, why Iowa?  It might make sense from a biological perspective to look at a particular eco-region or habitat type, rather than the artificial line that surrounds Iowa.  It does make sense from a political and educational standpoint, however to use the geo-political boundaries rather than the ecological boundaries.  This is where we are from, and this is where the Poweshiek skipper is from.

This section is about the biological diversity of Iowa.  But it is also how we interact with that biological diversity.  Sometimes those interactions have some financial purpose--there are pest insects and pollinators, weeds and wild foods.  But in a surprising number of ways those interactions are just for the fun of it.

If you get a chance, go along on a bioblitz.  A bioblitz is an event at which a number of people get together and try to identify all of the species at a particular area within a certain period of time--usually one or two days.  There are usually experts in particular groups available, and often the events are open to the public.  That is a great way to get introduced to the biodiversity that is all around us.