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Central Corn Belt Plains

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NameColor on MapEPA Code‡
Illinois/Indiana Prairies54a
Chicago Lake Plain54b
Kankakee Marsh54c
Sand Area54d
Chiwaukee Prairie Region54e
Valparaiso-Wheaton Morainal Complex54f
Rock River Hills54g

† Status: ✓ = Complete ○ = Needs Image … = Incomplete ∅ = Stub Only

This code refers to the US EPA's Level 4 ecoregion codes for the continental U.S., see here.


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About the Central Corn Belt Plains

The Central Corn Belt Plains are a roughly-round region with irregular borders, extending from the southernmost portions of Wisconsin, through much of Illinois, and into northwestern Indiana. This region was recently glaciated, and as such is mostly very flat.

The climate is humid and continental, becoming colder to the north, and drier to the west. There are four well-defined seasons, but temperatures tend to change relatively quickly in fall and spring. The location in the interior of the continent and position relatively far from the great lakes and any sort of mountains allows for sudden and sometimes extreme swings of temperature; the region can experience both severe heat waves and winter cold. The winters here average cold enough that precipitation is markedly lower in winter, but there is usually significant snowfall.

This region tends to have a low density of streams, and the streams tend to have low gradients and intermittent flow.

Before European settlement, this region consisted of a mosaic of prairies and oak-hickory forests, contrasting sharply with the beech-dominated hardwood forests of areas farther east. Oak-hickory forests were dominated by white oak (Quercus alba), black oak (Quercus velutina), and shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), with some sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and American elm (Ulmus americana) on the more mesic sites. Mesic prairies supported big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), whereas dry upland prairies supported little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and side-oats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula). The plant communities here reflect the decrease in rainfall as one moves westward; this region is in a zone transitional to the Great Plains, in which drought stress limits plant growth.

Starting in the 19th century, the forests here were gradually cleared and replaced with agriculture. Much of the region has dark, fertile soils ideally-suited to Western agriculture, and the climate is humid enough to also be ideal. Initially, agriculture here was more diversified. Nowadays, the region mostly produces corn and soybeans, owing in large part to the system of U.S. agriculture subsidies. The region also produces some cattle, sheep, poultry, and especially hogs, but there is generally less production of livestock than areas farther west. Waterways in this area have been heavily degraded by runoff, and in places, especially on the more poorly-drained sites, the lands have been drained by channels and the streams channelized. There are also relatively few intact natural areas and little protected public land throughout most of the area.

This area also contains some major urbanization, mostly in the north, including the entirety of the Chicago metro area, the third-largest metro area in the U.S., and also includes the smaller areas of Milwaukee, WI, Madison, WI, Rockford, IL, Peoria, IL, and Springfield, IL, and numerous smaller cities. Much of the urban areas, especially along Lake Michigan, are heavily industrial, although industry has declined and the region is considered part of the rust belt. Still, most of the region's area remains rural and sparsely populated.

This region is bordered to the north by the Southeastern Wisconsin Till Plains, an irregular border to the northeast with the Southern Michigan/Northern Indiana Drift Plains, and a small border to the southeast with the Eastern Corn Belt Plains. This region is mostly surrounded to the southeast, south, and west by the Interior River Valleys and Hills, along the region's major rivers, the Wabash, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers. There is also a small border to the northwest with the Driftless Area, a unique area that escaped glaciation.

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1. Wiken, E., Griffith, G. "North American Terrestrial Ecoregions - Level III", Commission for Environmental Cooperation, (2011) Web.