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Grassland

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This article is about vegetation and landscape. For other uses, see Grassland (disambiguation).
"Greensward" redirects here. For park plan, see Central Park.

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Grassland in Magallanes Region, Patagonia, Chile

A grassland in the Philippines.

An Inner Mongolian grassland in the People's Republic of China.

Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses (Poaceae), however sedge
(Cyperaceae) and rush (Juncaceae) families can also be found. Grasslands occur naturally on all
continents except Antarctica. Grasslands are found in most ecoregions of the Earth. For example,
there are five terrestrial ecoregion classifications (subdivisions) of the temperate grasslands,
savannas, and shrublandsbiome (ecosystem), which is one of eight terrestrial ecozones of the
Earth's surface.

Contents
[hide]

1Vegetation
2Evolution
3Climates
4Biodiversity and conservation
5Human impact and economic importance
6Types of grasslands
o 6.1Schimper (1898)
o 6.2Ellenberg and Mueller-Dombois (1967)
o 6.3Laycock (1979)
o 6.4Other
6.4.1Tropical and subtropical
6.4.2Temperate
6.4.3Flooded
6.4.4Montane
6.4.5Tundra
6.4.6Desert and xeric
7Animals
8See also
9Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands ecoregions
10Tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands ecoregions
11References
12Further reading

Vegetation[edit]
Grassland vegetation can vary in height from very short, as in chalk grassland, to quite tall, as in the
case of North American tallgrass prairie, South American grasslands and Africansavanna.

The Konza tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills of northeastern Kansas.

Woody plants, shrubs or trees, may occur on some grasslands forming savannas, scrubby
grassland or semi-wooded grassland, such as the African savannas or the Iberian dehesa.[1]
As flowering plants and trees, grasses grow in great concentrations in climates where
annual rainfall ranges between 500 and 900 mm (20 and 35 in).[2] The root systems of perennial
grasses and forbs form complex mats that hold the soil in place.

Evolution[edit]
Graminoids are among the most versatile life forms. They became widespread toward the end of
the Cretaceous period, and fossilized dinosaur feces (coprolites) have been found
containing phytoliths of a variety of grasses that include grasses that are related to
modern riceand bamboo.[3]
The appearance of mountains in the western United States during
the Miocene and Pliocene epochs, a period of some 25 million years, created a continental climate
favorable to the evolution of grasslands. Existing forest biomes declined, and grasslands became
much more widespread. Following the Pleistocene ice ages, grasslands expanded in range in the
hotter, drier climates, and began to become the dominant land feature worldwide.[1]

Climates[edit]
Grasslands often occur in areas with annual precipitation between 600 mm (24 in) and 1,500 mm
(59 in) and average mean annual temperatures ranges from 5 and 20 C (Woodward et al. 2004).
However, some grasslands occur in colder (20 C) and hotter (30 C) climatic
conditions.[4] Grassland can exist in habitats that are frequently disturbed by grazing or fire, as such
disturbance prevents the encroachment of woody species. Species richness is particularly high in
grasslands of low soil fertility such as serpentine barrensand calcareous grasslands, where woody
encroachment is prevented as low nutrient levels in the soil may inhibit the growth of forest and
shrub species.

Biodiversity and conservation[edit]


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Grasslands dominated by unsown wild-plant communities ("unimproved grasslands") can be called


either natural or "semi-natural" habitats. The majority of grasslands in temperate climates are "semi-
natural". Although their plant communities are natural, their maintenance depends upon
anthropogenic activities such as low-intensity farming, which maintains these grasslands through
grazing and cutting regimes. These grasslands contain many species of wild plants, including
grasses, sedges, rushes and herbs; 25 or more species per square meter is not unusual.[citation
needed]
Chalk downlands in England can support over 40 species per square meter. In many parts of
the world, few examples have escaped agricultural improvement (fertilising, weed killing, ploughing
or re-seeding). For example, original North American prairie grasslands or lowland wildflower
meadows in the UK are now rare and their associated wild flora equally threatened. Associated with
the wild-plant diversity of the "unimproved" grasslands is usually a rich invertebrate fauna; there are
also many species of birds that are grassland "specialists", such as the snipe and the great bustard.
Agriculturally improved grasslands, which dominate modern intensive agricultural landscapes, are
usually poor in wild plant species due to the original diversity of plants having been destroyed by
cultivation, the original wild-plant communities having been replaced by sown monocultures of
cultivated varieties of grasses and clovers, such as perennial ryegrass and white clover. In many
parts of the world "unimproved" grasslands are one of the most threatened types of habitat, and a
target for acquisition by wildlife conservation groups or for special grants to landowners who are
encouraged to manage them appropriately.

Human impact and economic importance[edit]


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Grassland in Cantabria, northern Spain.

A restored grassland ecosystem at Morton Arboretum in Illinois.

Grassland vegetation often remains dominant in a particular area usually due to grazing, cutting, or
natural or manmade fires, all discouraging colonisation by and survival of tree and shrub seedlings.
Some of the world's largest expanses of grassland are found in African savanna, and these are
maintained by wild herbivores as well as by nomadic pastoralists and their cattle, sheep or goats.
Grasslands may occur naturally or as the result of human activity. Grasslands created and
maintained by human activity are called anthropogenic grasslands. Hunting peoples around the
world often set regular fires to maintain and extend grasslands, and prevent fire-intolerant trees and
shrubs from taking hold. The tallgrass prairies in the U.S. Midwest may have been extended
eastward into Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio by human agency. Much grassland in northwest
Europedeveloped after the Neolithic Period, when people gradually cleared the forest to create
areas for raising their livestock.
The professional study of grasslands falls under the category of rangeland management, which
focuses on ecosystem services associated with the grass-dominated arid and semi-arid rangelands
of the world. Rangelands account for an estimated 70% of the earth's landmass; thus, many cultures
including those of the United States are indebted to the economics that the world's grasslands have
to offer, from producing grazing animals, tourism, ecosystems services such as clean water and air,
and energy extraction.

Types of grasslands[edit]
Schimper (1898)[edit]
Grassland types by Schimper (1898, 1903):[5]

meadow (hygrophilous or tropophilous grassland)


steppe (xerophilous grassland)
savannah (xerophilous grassland containing isolated trees)
Ellenberg and Mueller-Dombois (1967)[edit]
Grassland types by Ellenberg and Mueller-Dombois (1967):[6]

Formation-class V. Terrestrial herbaceous communities


A. Savannas and related grasslands (tropical or subtropical grasslands and parklands)
B. Steppes and related grasslands (e.g. North American "prairies" etc.)
C. Meadows, pastures or related grasslands
D. Sedge swamps and flushes
E. Herbaceous and half-woody salt swamps
F. Forb vegetation
Laycock (1979)[edit]
Grassland types by Laycock (1979):[7]

(1) tallgrass (true) prairie;


(2) shortgrass prairie;
(3) mixed-grass prairie;
(4) shrub steppe;
(5) annual grassland;
(6) desert (arid) grassland;
(7) high mountain grassland.
Other[edit]
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Tropical and subtropical[edit]


These grasslands are classified with tropical and subtropical savannas and shrublands as
the tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands biome. Notable tropical and
subtropical grasslands include the Llanos grasslands of South America.
Temperate[edit]
Mid-latitude grasslands, including the prairie and Pacific grasslands of North America,
the Pampas of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, calcareous downland, and the steppes of Europe.
They are classified with temperate savannas and shrublands as the temperate grasslands,
savannas, and shrublands biome. Temperate grasslands are the home to many large herbivores,
such as bison, gazelles, zebras, rhinoceroses, and wild
horses. Carnivores like lions, wolves and cheetahs and leopards are also found in temperate
grasslands. Other animals of this region include: deer, prairie dogs, mice, jack
rabbits, skunks, coyotes, snakes, fox, owls, badgers, blackbirds (both Old and New
World varieties), grasshoppers, meadowlarks, sparrows, quails, hawks and hyenas.
Negri-Nepote temperate grasslands in New Jersey

Flooded[edit]
Grasslands that are flooded seasonally or year-round, like the Everglades of Florida,
the Pantanal of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay or the Esteros del Ibera in Argentina, are classified with
flooded savannas as the flooded grasslands and savannas biome and occur mostly in the tropics
and subtropics.
Watermeadows are grasslands that are deliberately flooded for short periods.
Montane[edit]

Grassland in the Antelope Valley, California.

High-altitude grasslands located on high mountain ranges around the world, like the Pramo of
the Andes Mountains. They are part of the montane grasslands and shrublands biome and also
constitute tundra.
Tundra[edit]
Similar to montane grasslands, polar Arctic tundra can have grasses, but high soil moisture means
that few tundras are grass-dominated today. However, during the Pleistocene ice ages, a polar
grassland known as steppe-tundra occupied large areas of the Northern Hemisphere. These are in
the tundra biome.
Desert and xeric[edit]
Also called desert grasslands, this is composed of sparse grassland ecoregions located in
the deserts and xeric shrublands biome.

Animals[edit]
Mites, insect larvae, nematodes and earthworms inhabit deep soil, which can reach 6 metres (20 ft)
underground in undisturbed grasslands on the richest soils of the world. These invertebrates, along
with symbiotic fungi, extend the root systems, break apart hard soil, enrich it with urea and other
natural fertilizers, trap minerals and water and promote growth. Some types of fungi make the plants
more resistant to insect and microbial attacks.
Grassland in all its form supports a vast variety of mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects. Typical
large mammals include the blue wildebeest, American bison, giant anteater and Przewalski's horse.
While grasslands in general support diverse wildlife, given the lack of hiding places for predators, the
African savanna regions support a much greater diversity in wildlife than do temperate grasslands.[8]
There is evidence for grassland being much the product of animal behaviour and movement;[9] some
examples include migratory herds of antelope trampling vegetation and African bush
elephants eating acacia saplings before the plant has a chance to grow into a mature tree.