What are the Asian steppes? The Steppe, belt of grass and that extends some 5,000 miles (8,000 km) from Hungary in the west through Ukraine and Central Asia to Manchuria in the east. August 2013, the National Wildlife Federation joined forces with Kansas State University to host the second ever America’s Grasslands Conference - held in Manhattan, Kansas. Only a short drive from the Konza Prairie Biological Station, which just recently celebrated its 40th Birthday, the conference was located in an ideal spot to talk about grassland conservation and the future of grasslands. The conference was attended by around 215 participants from across the country, including a diverse group of researchers, conservationists, ranchers, federal and state policy experts, graduate students, and many others. The conference, which ran from August 12-14, featured over 65 speakers and included a riveting keynote by acclaimed conservation photographer Michael Forsberg, optional field trips to visit local native grasslands, a poster session, a series of roundtable discussions, and a barbeque at the nearby Konza Prairie. For this year’s conference, we chose the theme “The Future of Grasslands in a Changing Landscape.”
Roughly between 3 and 2.5 million years ago, the lineage of ‘Lucy’ [Australopithecus afarensis] became extinct and the first members of our own genus, Homo, appeared. The first simple stone tools also appeared with those fossils, which featured some modern traits like bigger brains,” deMenocal says. “Then, between 2 million and 1.5 million years ago, we see Homo erectus.” That bigger-brained hominin had a skeleton very much like our own, more sophisticated tools like double-bladed axes and new behaviors that led early humans out of Africa for the first time.