Grassland is a large ecosystem characterized by low rainfall and grassy vegetation. On average, grasslands receive between 500 and 900 millimeters (20 to 35 inches) of rain per year, limiting the type of plants that can be found there. These regions often have a marked lack of trees or larger plants. Instead, it is populated by various grasses and low shrubs. Grassland vegetation also tends to have growing points much closer to the ground.
Where Are Grasslands Found?
Grasslands are found on all continents except Antarctica and are spread all over the world. Because they are found in many countries and geographic regions, the average temperature of a meadow varies greatly depending on where it is located. Temperatures can be as low as -20C (-4F) in some areas and as high as 30C (86F) in others. Grasslands also have different names depending on where in the world they are located. In North America, grasslands can be found in inland provinces and states and are generally classified as grasslands or plains. In South America, the pampas are in the southern and western regions, central Eurasia has steppes, Africa sees various grassland plains in many countries on the continent, and southeastern Australia has grasslands that break up large areas of desert.
Plants Growing in Temperate Grasslands
Grasslands can be divided into two types of biomes. These are called temperate meadows or tropical meadows. Temperate meadows can be found in various countries all over the world. Some examples of temperate grasslands include the plains and grasslands of central North America, the puszta of Hungary, the highlands of New Zealand and Australia, the pampas of Argentina, and the steppes of Russia. Although their locations vary greatly, temperate grasslands tend to take one of two forms. They are either wet and humid, forming long grasslands, or are found in regions with extreme temperature ranges, with hot summers and cold winters. These areas are filled with dry short grass. Temperate meadows receive about 10 – 30 inches of rain per year and have a high density of wildflowers. Some of the common varieties include buffalo grass, cacti, sage, flaming stars, goldenrod, asters, milkweed, lupine, purple coneflower, clover, and sunflower.
Plants Growing in Tropical Grasslands
Tropical grasslands, on the other hand, have a higher average rainfall, ranging from 20 to 50 inches per year. Because tropical grasslands go through periods of growth and dormancy, not cold periods like other regions, they tend to have more tree life than other grasslands. These trees still differ from boreal or rainforest in that the trees have to withstand harsh droughts and fires, porous soils and unproductive conditions. Also, due to the abundance of grazing animals, these trees have developed deep roots, thick bark and hard sap to deter animals. Some of the tree species common in tropical grasslands include: baobab trees, maquette trees, blueberry trees, whistling thistle, candelabra trees, umbrella-thorn acacia, kangaroo claw trees, river willows, and black chokeberry.
Effects of Climate Change on Grassland Crops
Due to low precipitation levels, grasslands are very vulnerable to climate change. Extreme changes in temperature or precipitation can have devastating effects on regional vegetation and, as a result, wildlife in the region. These bioregions have seen all kinds of temperature changes, including increased seasonal and annual temperatures. Changes in precipitation patterns are also increasing globally. Droughts and fires have been experienced in many regions, such as in Australia, while rainfall and flooding have increased in other biomes. These changes affect not only the vegetation but also the wildlife in the area. Western North America has been heavily impacted by climate change, and grasslands in these areas have increased levels of drought and fire. These arid and semi-arid regions have seen an increase in invasive species such as cheatgrass, which grows very quickly in dry climates and is highly flammable. This has led to an increase in fire frequency and distribution across much of the western United States and Canada. Other effects of reduced precipitation can be seen in other parts of the world.
Effects of Human Activities on Grassland Habitats
In addition to climate change, grasslands are also one of the most popular areas for human development. The main reason for this is that flat land is much easier to clear than a forested area. Therefore, pastures are often cleared and reused for agricultural uses. This has happened in abundance in grassland areas such as North America, where natural grassland has been replaced by crop fields. Only 2% of natural grassland still exists in North America. The rest is reused for development or agriculture. Even natural grasslands in many areas are at risk from existing farming systems. There are many cattle ranches in Australia, and many of these farms allow their cattle to roam freely, eating natural grassland. While free-range farming is much more sustainable than other options, it can have a devastating effect on grasslands that don’t naturally see such heavy traffic from grazing animals that can reduce grass populations.
Writer: Can Baskin