Focusing On The Conservation of Ecosystems, Habitats & Wildlife

Temperate Grasslands

grasslandsFYA: For Your Awareness   Indigenous Temperate Grasslands represent 8% of the earth’s terrestrial surface but only 3.4% are protected. They have served as an important habitat for humans over the centuries and according to the IUCN they are the most endangered biome in the world.

What are Temperate Grasslands?

Temperate Grasslands are landscapes covered with grasses rather than trees and shrubs. They are also known as steppes, prairies, pampas, llanos and cerrados depending on their geographic location. Grasslands are home to herbaceous flowering plants that bloom after the rainy season. Grazing by mammals, seasonal drought, low precipitation, and fires prevent shrubs and trees from growing in this region. Grasslands are located most often between forests and deserts.

Temperate Grasslands have hot summers and cold winters. They receive between 10-30 inches of precipitation including snow. Grasses can be tall or short depending on how much rainfall they receive. There are two seasons the dormant season where it is too cold for any growth and the growing season. Temperate Grasslands contain fertile soil which is why many have been converted into agricultural lands. Fires are important to maintaining grasslands that keep shrubs and fire sensitive trees from taking hold. Native people set fires to grasslands to manage these lands, grasses were able to survive because unlike trees, they grow from bottom up.

Taller grasses thrive in areas that are warmer with more precipitation and can include sagebrush, cacti, sunflower, and clover. Additional grass species are include purple needle grass, blue grama, buffalo grass, and galleta while flowers can include asters, blazing stars, coneflowers, goldenrods, psoraleas, and wild indigos. Grasses have the ability to continue growing no matter how much they are nibbled by animals, due to the fact that their growing points are located low in the soil. The few trees that exist include cottonwoods, oaks and willows.

There is less animal diversity compared with the savannas of Africa. Some of the animals found in temperate grasslands include bison, wild horse, antelope, gazelle, deer, pronghorn, mole rats, polecats, gophers, ground squirrels, mice, jack rabbits, prairie dog, coyote, badger, ferrets, and snakes.

Where are Temperate Grasslands located?  

Temperate Grasslands are located north of the Tropic of Cancer (23.5 degrees north) and south of the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5 degrees south). They are located on every continent except Antarctica. In North America they are known as the prairies in Central Lowlands and Great Plains of the United States and Canada. This also includes eastern Washington’s Palouse Prairie, California grasslands, and Southwest grasslands. In Eurasia this includes the steppes of the Ukraine and in Russia and Mongolia. South America’s pampas are found in Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. In South Africa they are known as the veld.

Why are Temperate Grasslands important to protect?

Temperate Grasslands have served as a primary habitat for people, animals and plants over the centuries, which is one reason why they should be protected. They have also supported large numbers of grazing animals that have been a food source for humans. Once home to some of the world’s largest collections of wildlife, they have dwindled in the past century. Now many of these species are nearly extinct including the North American bison, Argentina’s pampas deer, and China’s antelopes. Temperate Grasslands also act as a carbon sink by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Why are Temperate Grasslands threatened?

More than half of all temperate grasslands have been converted to agriculture, forest plantations, and other land uses such as urban development, energy and mining. Much of the remaining grasslands have been subjected to over grazing which is destroying them. These practices have led to habitat loss, declining biodiversity, desertification and fragmentation.  Climate change is also a threat.

Who is protecting and preserving Temperate Grasslands?

Programs such as The Temperate Grasslands Conservation Initiative has launched global initiatives and action plans designed to raise awareness for protecting grasslands and to begin conservation efforts in North and South America, Russia, Mongolia, and China.   The Nature Conservancy has active projects of Nachusa Grasslands in Illinois, Northern Kenya Rangelands and Patagonian Grasslands.   Defenders of Wildlife is working to preserve grasslands their animals and plants through education and conservation.

How can we protect and restore Grasslands?

It is important to recognize that even though preserving grasslands doesn’t receive as much press as saving the rainforest it is still vitally important to protect. Learn about the importance of grasslands and understand the issues. Advocate for the preservation and protection of grasslands through donations of time and money to organizations that are working to save grasslands. Make a symbolic adoption through Defenders of Wildlife of an animal with money going to protection of their habitats. If you live near protected grassland volunteer time and educate your community about their importance as a habitat for plants, animals, and birds.