A Whole New World

Grasslands by Many Names

The dry llanos and wet campos of South America, the tallgrass prairie of North America, the tropical savanna and veldt of Africa, the steppes of Eurasia, the terai of India, the downlands of Australia-only the Antarctic continent is too hostile for grasslands. Grasses grow in areas that receive somewhere between 25 to 100 cm (10-40 in.) of rain annually. This is too little rainfall to support a forest but is not so dry as a desert. Each grassland is unique; shaped by geology, climate, fire, the animals that coexist within it, and most recently, by people.

Take a Closer Look

Tangles of mixed grasses, various flowering herbs and bulbs, animal droppings and dead leaves, decaying carcasses and tartered feathers-all these ingredients intertwine to create a miniature jungle complete with stable temperatures and humidity! Bacteria, fungi, countless invertebrates from worms to snails, rattlesnakes, rodents, ruminants, and ratites abound here whether it's spring's growing season or winter's dormancy. Hardy grasses form a continuous ground cover of living and decaying plant matter. This tangled carpet, supported by its cushion of roots, protects the soils beneath from erosion and provides nooks and crannies where all sorts of creatures can live and feast on an abundant supply of living and rotting organic matter.

Around and Around Again

Natural composting is recycling at its most basic level. Organisms (bacteria, insects, worms, larvae, slime molds, yeasts, and molds) eat and help convert organic waste into simpler nutrients and inorganic compounds. This decomposition returns necessary nutrients to the soil, making them available for new growth.

Home is Where the Food Is

Grasslands may be short in stature but they are complete ecosystems with a myriad of animals. In fact, these seemingly endless expanses can sustain greater population densities than any other terrestrial habitat!