Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

Grasslands spans across the world, covering roughly around a quarter of the total surface area of the planet. The grassland biome, in fact, exists on every continent of the world – with the exception of Antarctica (wherein the ground is permanently covered with snow). The most striking features of this biome are its continuity and openness, almost seeming like an endless sea of grass. The soil in grassland biome is rich in nutrients, and hence highly productive – that explains why huge tracts of grasslands are being converted to agricultural land.

So, What Exactly is the Grassland Biome?

The grassland biome is made up of great, rolling tracts of land comprising grasses, herbs and flowers. Shrub growth is virtually absent in the grassland biome, while trees only grow along the streams and rivers. The annual rainfall these grasslands receive ranges between 10-30 inches – which is apt as more than it is likely turn these grasslands into forestlands, and less is likely to turn them into deserts. Grasslands, in fact, acts as a transition zone between the desert and the forest. These grasslands are known by different names in different regions.

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Biomes of the World

  • Prairies of North America
  • Pampas of South America
  • Savannah in Africa
  • Steppes of Eurasia and Australia

On the basis of their geographical location, grasslands are categorized into tropical grasslands (located in the Tropics) and temperate grasslands (located in the Temperate regions of the world.) Interestingly, this biome lies on both sides of the two belts of desert that encircle the Earth. This geographical location plays a crucial role in determining grassland biome climate. The tropical grassland biome, which is nearest to the Equator, is hot all through the year. The grasslands that are located farther away from the Equator, like the Prairies in the United States, are characterized by varying temperatures – hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter.

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

Plant and Animal Life in Grassland Biome

When the first settlers in North America began moving westward, they discovered that the Prairies, as was the term they used for the grasslands, were not just flat grassy areas but also supported several distinct species of flora and fauna. Though the biodiversity of grassland biome may not be at par with the biodiversity of the rainforest biome, there is no doubt about the fact that the plant and animal species found here constitute a large chunk of kingdom Plantae and kingdom Animalia.

Grassland Animals

Grasslands around the world are home to unique species of animals who have adapted themselves to the conditions prevailing in this biome. Hundreds of species of animals, which come in all shapes and sizes, are found in these grasslands. On one hand, we have small insects and reptiles – such as the Tiger beetle and the Leopard gecko, and on the other, we have large animals like the bison and the African elephant which are known for their mammoth size and power. In a region wherein there is no dearth of grass, the fact that herbivores are in majority is least surprising. The list of predators here is topped by the cheetah, and includes species like coyotes, Prairie dogs, jackals, hyena as well as species like the bobcat and wolves which come from neighboring forested areas.

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

The different species of animals that inhabit the grasslands share quite a few common traits, being predominantly plant eating or herbivorous ungulates i.e. animals that have long legs and hoofs, like deer and horses. These animals have plenty of grass to feed on, but they lack cover from predators. This is where their adaptation skills – like flat-topped teeth (which help them feed on the grass) and long limbs (which help them outrun their predators), come into play. Some of the animals that belong to the temperate grasslands of North America and Eurasia are: coyotes, prairie dogs, gophers, antelope, bison, eagles, wild turkey, Canadian geese, bobcats, foxes, falcons, antelopes, the lynx cats, the gray wolf, fly catchers, and various types of insects. Some of the animals which inhabit the tropical grasslands of the world are zebras, cheetahs, antelopes, African elephants, giraffes, as well as various species of insects and reptiles.

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Plants

The growth of tall grass is usually observed in those areas of the grassland biome which are characterized by humid and wet climate. On the other hand, short grass usually grows in areas that are dry, with cold winters and hot summers. The settlers of North America found both types of grasslands as they journeyed west. On crossing the Mississippi river, they found grass that was very tall – at times reaching up to 11 ft in height, (tall-grass Prairies). This was the region which received frequent rainfall, and was also very humid. On approaching the Rocky Mountains, further west, they came across grasses that were much shorter (short-grass Prairies). This was the region wherein winter was cold and there was less rain during the summer season.

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

As the name of this biome suggests, grasses dominate the vegetation in the grassland biome. Shrubs and trees occur very rarely in this biome. The different types of grasses that grow in the grassland biome, include buffalo grass, ryegrass, foxtail, wild oats, purple needlegrass, etc. Even though the large number of herbivores are continuously grazing on the different types of grasses, these grasses can survive because their point of growth is near the surface of the ground. Besides, they survive even wildfires, which are quite frequent here, due to the underground buds and stems. The trees and shrubs that grow in the grassland biome are easily destroyed by wildfires. There are also many types of wildflowers that grow in temperate grasslands, some of the most prominent species being wild indigos, clovers, sunflowers, goldenrods, blazing stars, and asters.

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

Grassland Food Chain

While the diversity in grassland animals and plants has been a boon for this biome, the fertile nature of soil here has become its biggest curse. The productive nature of this fertile soil has prompted humans to encroach upon the grassland biome, and convert large tracts of grasslands to agricultural land. Grasslands in North America, South America and Eurasia are being converted to agricultural land at an alarming rate. In fact, most of the fertile agricultural lands that we get to see in the United States and southern Canada today, were originally temperate grasslands i.e. the Prairies.

The Prairies and other grasslands of the world were home to large herds of bison, American antelopes, zebras, etc., and their predators, until human encroachment forced them out of their native habitat. Most of these grasslands have been transformed into the productive agricultural areas….. or should we say the ‘most productive areas of the world’, which is why they are often referred to as the ‘breadbasket of the world’. Even though they remain grasslands, they are not wild any more.

By Rita Putatunda
Article Source: buzzle.com