Grasslands Explained by National Geographic

Grasslands go by many names, says this National Geographic article. In the U.S. Midwest, they're often called prairies. In South America, they're known as pampas. Central Eurasian grasslands are referred to as steppes, while African grasslands are savannas. What they all have in common are grasses, their naturally dominant vegetation. Grasslands are found where there is not enough regular rainfall to support the growth of a forest, but not so little that a desert forms. In fact, grasslands often lie between forests and deserts. (See grassland photos.)

Grasslands could help mitigate climate change: One study found California's grasslands and rangelands could store more carbon than forests because they are less susceptible to wildfires and drought.

The height of vegetation on grasslands varies with the amount of rainfall. Some grasses might be under a foot tall, while others can grow as high as seven feet. Their roots can extend three to six feet deep into the soil. The combination of underground biomass with moderate rainfall—heavy rain can wash away nutrients—tends to make grassland soils very fertile and appealing for agricultural use. Much of the North American prairielands have been converted into land for crops, posing threats to species that depend on those habitats, as well as drinking water sources for people who live nearby.

The plants on grasslands have adapted to the drought, fires, and grazing common to that habitat.

The above was excerpted from an article by National Geographic. Read the whole article and see the stunning photographs here: Grasslands, Explained.

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