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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 shrublands biome (ecosystem), which is one of eight terrestrial ecozones of the
Earth's surface.


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

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 African savanna.

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.
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 rice and

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]

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 barrens and 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 Europe
developed 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

o A. Savannas and related grasslands (tropical or subtropical grasslands and
o B. Steppes and related grasslands (e.g. North American "prairies" etc.)
o C. Meadows, pastures or related grasslands
o D. Sedge swamps and flushes
o E. Herbaceous and half-woody salt swamps
o 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.

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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.


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


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

Watermeadows are grasslands that are deliberately flooded for short periods.

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.


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.

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

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.