Grasslands (also called greenswards) are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses (Poaceae) and other herbaceous (non-woody) plants (forbs). Plants of the sedge (Cyperacae) and rush (Juncaceae) families can also be found in grasslands. Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica, and in many other areas they have replaced the natural vegetation due to human influence. In temperate latitudes, such as north-west Europe, grasslands are dominated by perennial species, whereas in warmer climates annual species form a greater component of the vegetation.
Grasslands can be found in most terrestrial climates. Grassland vegetation can vary in height from very short, as in chalk downland where the vegetation may be less than 30 cm high, to quite tall, as in the case of North American tallgrass prairie, South American grasslands and African savanna. 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. Such grasslands are sometimes referred to as wood-pasture or woodland.
Grasslands cover nearly fifty percent of the land surface of the continent of Africa. 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.
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.
As flowering plants, grasses grow in great concentrations in climates where annual rainfall ranges between 500 mm and 900 mm (approximately 20 to 35 inches). The root systems of perennial grasses and forbs form complex mats that hold the soil in place. Mites, insect larvae, nematodes and earthworms inhabit deep soil, which can reach 6 meters (about 20 feet) 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 (Chadwick 1995). Some types of fungi make the plants more resistant to insect and microbial attacks.
Average daily temperatures range between -20 to 30 degrees Celsius.. Temperate grasslands have cold winters and warm summers with rain or some snow.
Grasslands are of vital importance for raising livestock for human consumption and for milk and other dairy products.
Grassland vegetation remains dominant in a particular area usually due to grazing, cutting, or natural or man-made fires, all discouraging colonisation by and survival of tree and shrub seedlings. Fire was used in North America by the Native Americans as a means of maintaining grassland. 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 American Midwest may have been extended eastward into Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio by human agency. Much grassland in north-west Europe developed after the Neolithic Period, when people gradually cleared the forest to create areas for raising their livestock.
Grassland Bird Use of Remnant Prairie and Conservation Reserve Program Fields in an Agricultural Landscape in Wisconsin
Jan 01, 2009; ABSTRACT. Because of the declines in grassland bird populations across North America, many state and federal agencies are...