The Sagebrush Sea

The Sagebrush Sea: Food Web

The “Sagebrush Sea” is one of the most extensive ecosystems in the American West. Sagebrush dominates the landscape but a complex web of flora and fauna make the ‘sea’ their home. Follow the colored lines below to see how food energy makes its way from simple plants at the bottom of the web to large predators near the top. Click on the images of the different groups to show their connections only or on individual plants and animals to learn more about them.

American Badger

Top Predators / Secondary and Tertiary Consumers

American Badger

Taxidea taxus

The American badger is a member of the Mustelidae, a diverse family of carnivorous mammals that also includes the weasel, otter, ferret, and wolverine. It digs underground burrows with short, powerful legs and huge foreclaws that measure up to 2 inches (5 cm) in length.

Eats:

  • Rodents
  • Rabbits
  • Lizards
  • Snakes
  • Birds

Eaten by:

Healthy adult animals have few natural predators.

Coyote

Top Predators / Secondary and Tertiary Consumers

Coyote

Canis latrans

The coyote is a smaller relative of the gray wolf found throughout North America. It is a highly versatile species, whose range has expanded despite human changes to its natural environment.

Eats:

  • Deer
  • Pronghorn
  • Lizards
  • Snakes
  • Amphibians
  • Birds

Eaten by:

Healthy adult animals have few natural predators.

Northern Harrier

Top Predators / Secondary and Tertiary Consumers

Northern Harrier

Circus cyaneus

The northern harrier is a medium-sized raptor with a broad wings and a rounded tail. They are the most owl-like of hawks, using hearing as well as vision to locate prey.

Eats:

  • Rodents
  • Small rabbits
  • Songbirds
  • Snakes
  • Lizards

Eaten by:

Healthy adult animals have few natural predators.

Sage Thrasher

Small Carnivores / Secondary Consumers

Sage Thrasher

Oreoscoptes montanus

The sage thrasher is an small songbird that hunts for insects beneath sagebrush. Sage thrashers are talented singers that can mimic the sound of other birds. This gift for song gave them their original name, the “mountain mockingbird”.

Eats:

  • Insects
  • Berries

Eaten by:

  • Raptors
  • Snakes
Lizards

Small Carnivores / Secondary Consumers

Sagebrush Lizard

Sceloporus graciosus

Often found in stands of sagebrush, this lizard is also called “spiny” lizard for the small scales found on its back.

Eats:

  • Insects

Eaten by:

  • Snakes
  • Raptors
  • Shrike (A bird that impales lizards on cactus thorns before eating them.)
  • Badger
Snakes

Small Carnivores / Secondary Consumers

Prairie Rattlesnake

Crotalus viridis

A venomous pit viper species native to the western United States, southwestern Canada, and northern Mexico. Like other rattlers, it scares off potential predators with the loud shaking of a ”rattle" on the end of its tail.

Eats:

  • Birds
  • Other snakes
  • Lizard
  • Rodents
  • Small rabbits

Eaten by:

  • Raptors
  • Badger
Sage Grouse

Herbivores / Primary Consumers

Greater Sage-Grouse

Centrocercus urophasianus

The greater sage-grouse is the largest grouse in North America. Their historic range spanned 16 American states and Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan in Canada. However, more recently their population has suffered severe declines, with a recent study reporting a 56 percent reduction in breeding males between 2007 and 2013.

Eats:

  • Sagebrush
  • Seeds
  • Insects
  • Wildflowers

Eaten by:

  • Coyote
  • Raptors
  • Snakes
  • Badger
Pronghorn

Herbivores / Primary Consumers

Pronghorn

Antilocapra americana

The pronghorn is a species of hoofed mammal indigenous to interior western and central North America. Although sometimes called the pronghorn antelope, it is only distantly related to the antelope species of Africa and Eurasia. It is the second-fastest land animal in the world clocking in at speeds of 60 miles per hour.

Eats:

  • Sagebrush
  • Grasses
  • Wildflowers
  • Prickly Pear Cactus

Eaten by:

  • Coyote
  • Mountain Lion
Insects

Herbivores / Primary Consumers

Harvester Ant

Pogonomyrmex occidentalis

A species of ant that inhabits the deserts and arid grasslands of the American West. It gets the name “harvester” from its habit of collecting edible seeds and other small food items.

Eats:

  • Seeds
  • Pollen

Eaten by:

  • Lizards
  • Snakes
  • Birds
  • Spiders
Pygmy Rabbit

Herbivores / Primary Consumers

Pygmy Rabbit

Brachylagus idahoensis

Pygmies are North America’s smallest rabbit, with adults weighing less than a pound. They are one of two rabbit species that dig their own burrows.

Eats:

  • Sagebrush
  • Grasses
  • Wildflowers

Eaten by:

  • Coyote
  • Weasels
  • Raptors
  • Foxes
  • Ravens and crows
  • Badger
Sagebrush

Primary Producers

Sagebrush

Sagebrush are low-growing, shrub-like plants belonging to the genus Artemesia. They are among the most widely distributed native plants in the western United States. The plants not only provide sustenance to huge variety of herbivores, but offer a place to hide from predators and shade from the hot desert sun. Some sagebrush species can live up to 150 years and help other plants grow.

Examples:

  • Wyoming Big Sagebrush (A. tridentata subsp. wyomingensis, shown above)
  • Mountain Sagebrush (A. tridentata subsp. vaseyana)
  • Three-tip Sage (Artemisia trifida)
  • Fuzzy Sagebrush (Artemisia papposa)
  • Stiff Sagebrush (Artemisia rigida)
  • Bud Sagebrush (Artemisia nova)
Cactus

Primary Producers

Cactus

Cactuses are a family of hardy plants that store water in their wax-covered leaves. They are often covered in sharp spines that prevent them from being eaten by grazers. Like sagebrush, they provide food and shelter for a large number of species, and are also a source of water during drought.

Examples:

  • Prickly Pear (Opuntia polyacantha, shown above)
  • Nipple coryphantha (Escobaria missouriensis)
Wildflowers

Primary Producers

Desert Wildflowers

Wildflowers, also known as forbs, are an important food source for birds, insects and grazers.

Examples:

  • Scarlet Globe Mallow (Sphaeralcea coccinea,shown above)
  • Purple Milkvetch (Astragalus agrestis)
  • Largeflower Hawksbeard (Crepis occidentalis)

Designer: Victoria Malabrigo – Developer: Alexandra White – Producer: Eric R. Olson

Photo Credits/Sources Print

Sources:
Cornell Ornithology (www.allaboutbirds.org/)
Sagebrush Sea.org (www.sagebrushsea.org)
Idaho National Laboratory Environmental Education, Surveillance, and Research Program (www.gsseser.com/)
Sagegrouse Initiative (www.sagegrouseinitiative.org)
Audubon.org (www.rockies.audubon.org/sagebrush-poster)
Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (www.science-ed.pnnl.gov/teachers/plans/ShrubSteppe_Part2.pdf)
Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org)

Photo credits:
Northern Harrier by dfaulder, CC BY 2.0 • American Badger © Alan D. Wilson, CC BY 3.0 • Sage Thrasher by Wolfgang Wander, CC BY-SA 3.0 • Common Sagebrush Lizard by Franco Folini, CC BY-SA 2.0 • Pronghorn © Alan D. Wilson, CC BY 3.0 • Pogonomyrmex occidentalis
© David Louis Quinn • Least Chipmunk © Alan D. Wilson, CC BY 3.0 • Artemisia Tridentata by Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0 • Opuntia polyacantha by Peter A. Mansfield, CC BY 3.0 • Sphaeralcea coccinea by Matt Lavin, CC BY-SA 2.0 • Gerrit Vyn

Licenses: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ • https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/