Grassland ecosystem is characterized by a dry climate that allows very little vegetation mostly dominated by different species of grasses. The grasses reproduce in grasslands through the pollination process or in some cases through producing plants from their roots.
Grassland ecosystem is known by different names across the globe. For example – steppes in Europe & Asia, Veldt in South Africa, Pampas in South America, Downs in Australia, etc. The climatic conditions of different grasslands vary to some extent, depending on their locations.
Grassland ecosystem plays an important role in the animal kingdom. Various species of animals starting from herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, insects, etc. live together in grasslands making it a rich ecosystem in terms of the food chain.
Table of Contents
- 1 Grassland Ecosystem Definition
- 2 Types of Grassland Ecosystem
- 3 Characteristics of Grassland Ecosystem
- 4 Food Chain of Grassland Ecosystem
Grassland Ecosystem Definition
In general terms, an ecosystem with huge open lands where the vegetation includes different types of grasses with very few numbers of trees is known as the grassland ecosystem.
The plants and animals of the grassland ecosystem find it quite challenging to live in the harsh climatic conditions. However, those who have adapted to the adverse climate of this region can survive in the grassland ecosystem.
Types of Grassland Ecosystem
A grassland ecosystem consists of huge fields covered with grasses, herbs and very few scattered trees. One of the main reasons for poor vegetation in grassland ecosystem is the irregular precipitation.
There are six main types of grasslands—tropical grasslands, temperate grasslands, flooded grassland ecosystem, tundra grasslands, montane grassland and Xeric grassland ecosystem.
Tropical grassland ecosystem
Savanna is an excellent example of the tropical grassland ecosystem. The climate of the tropical grasslands ecosystem is known to be warm throughout the year. It receives mainly two seasons, i.e. rainy and dry.
The precipitation (rain) during the rainy season in tropical grassland ecosystem ranges between 50 and 130 cms. The soil of tropical grasslands is quite poor in terms of fertility due to a lack of nutrients.
The grasses in the fields of tropical grassland are comparative shorts that provide a perfect platform for grazing animals and for hunting animals too. Tropical grasslands are home to various species of animals.
Temperate grassland ecosystem
North American Prairies is an excellent example of a temperate grassland ecosystem. It receives an annual rainfall of up to 25 to 75 cm. Unlike tropical grassland temperate grasslands are quite rich in nutrient content in the soil.
The rich nutrient content improves the fertility of the soil that makes the grasslands perfect for farming; This is why more than 50% of temperate prairies grasslands have been used for farming purposes. These farming lands fulfill the world’s demands for food to a large extent.
The grasses in temperate grasslands are taller as compared to tropical grasslands. The temperate grassland ecosystem also provides shelter to a wide variety of wild animals.
Flooded grassland ecosystem
As the name suggests, flooded grasslands have water throughout the year. That is why here you can find a huge variety of plants that grow in water.
Here you can also find a huge variety of birds migrated from other regions, whereas some are residents of the flooded grassland ecosystem. Florida’s Everglades is a perfect example of the flooded grassland ecosystem.
Tundra grasslands ecosystem
Tundra grasslands are also known as polar grasslands. It is located in higher altitudes to subarctic areas. Tundra grassland ecosystem experience a very short growing season. As far as the vegetation of tundra grasslands is concerned, it consists of huge grass fields and shrubs in between.
Montane grassland ecosystem
In simple terms, montane means higher altitudes. The grassland found on high altitudes above the tree-line is known as the montane grassland ecosystem.
The plants found in montane grasslands are unique in structure with dish-like formation, full of fur and waxy surface area. Northern Andes is an excellent example of a montane grassland ecosystem.
Xeric or Desert grassland ecosystem
Desert grasslands are situated on the outskirts of the desert low lands. Desert grassland ecosystem is very poor in terms of precipitation as it receives very low rainfall: This is why the desert grassland ecosystem is the hottest and driest grassland ecosystems present on the Earth.
If you want to understand the grassland ecosystem in a better way, then you need to know the characteristics of this ecosystem. These are the features that will better define the grassland ecosystem:
Precipitation (rain) in the grassland ecosystem
Grasslands ecosystem receives quite limited rainfall annually, and it covers almost 25% of the total land surface of the Earth. Limited rain causes no forest growth in this region.
Grassland ecosystem is also prone to drought and uncertain precipitation. Different grasslands have a different measurement of annual precipitation. For example – Savanna grassland experiences yearly rainfall up to 30-40 inches, whereas steppes in South-Eastern Europe or Siberia the annual rainfall ranges between 10-20 inches.
The temperature in the grassland ecosystem
If we talk about the temperate grassland ecosystem, the temperature varies a lot throughout the year. In summer season the temperature of temperate grasslands becomes too hot up to 38 degrees Celsius, whereas in winter seasons it reduces up to -40 degrees Celsius making it too cold.
On the other hand, the temperature of the savanna grasslands does not vary a lot. It ranges between 21-26 degrees Celsius. The climate of Savanna grassland is warm throughout the year.
Regular fire in the grassland ecosystem
Fires in grasslands are one of the important characteristics. Due to dry climate and flash lighting, the dry grass catches fire quite easily. Regular fire in grasslands increases the growth of grasses in fields, but it restricted the growth of trees, unfortunately; This is the reason; grassland ecosystem is lacking behind in terms of trees growth.
Poor vegetation in the grassland ecosystem
Poor vegetation is also a vital characteristic of the grassland ecosystem. This ecosystem is named grassland because of its huge area covered with grass fields. You will find very few numbers of trees in acres of grassland areas.
The dry climate and less rainfall is a major reason for poor vegetation in a grassland ecosystem. The grasses in the grassland ecosystem have adopted the climate of this region as compared to trees. As a result, you will find only grass fields in the grassland ecosystem.
The common species of grasses include purple needlegrass, foxtail, buffalo grass, wild oats, ryegrass, etc. These grasses have strong underground stems and roots that protect them from fires. It is excellent for grazing animals.
key characteristics of the grassland ecosystem:
- Limited annual rainfall.
- The dry climate throughout the year.
- Lack of nutrients in the soil.
- Grasslands are prone to drought and uncertain precipitation.
- Frequent fire due to semi-arid climate and flash lighting.
- Poor vegetation growth dominated by grasses.
- Grasslands are home for a huge variety of animal species.
Food Chain of Grassland Ecosystem
Grassland ecosystem is an open area covered by grasses all over that provide habitat to various plant and animal species. All these species play a vital role in the food chain of the grassland ecosystem.
The grassland food chain comprises of producers, primary consumers, secondary consumers, scavengers, and decomposers. The energy flows from one species to another through the food chain. The food chain helps to maintain the balance of each species in the ecosystem.
Producers build the base of the food chain of an ecosystem and so happens in the grassland ecosystem. The producers are known as the primary source of energy for all the organisms of grasslands directly or indirectly.
Plants come under the category of producers. They produce food, i.e. energy through photosynthesis process for themselves and for the other species that depend on it for food requirements.
Producers in the grassland ecosystem include plants such as star grass, acacia trees, jackalberry trees, lemongrass, red oat grass, etc.
- Primary Consumers
The primary consumers are those species that consume producers to fulfill their need for food and energy. Animals like antelopes, gnus, giraffes, zebras, gazelles, elephants, etc. come under the category of primary consumers.
The primary consumers make the second-tier of the food chain in the grassland Ecosystem.
- Secondary consumers
The flesh-eating animal species (carnivores & omnivores) are known as secondary consumers of the grassland ecosystem. These animals get energy from primary consumers.
The carnivores are the secondary consumers of the grassland ecosystem that mostly include big cats, whereas omnivores include animals like hyenas, wild dogs, snakes, etc.
The animals that consume dead remains of other animals are known as scavengers. For example- hyenas, jackals, vultures, etc. These animals sit one step upper than secondary consumers.
Scavengers play an important role in the environment by minimizing the dead animal waste and recycling the nutrients from dead remains back to the environment.
The fungi, bacteria, termites, etc. come under the category of decomposers that sits on the top in the grassland ecosystem food chain. Decomposers consume matter from dead species of flora & fauna releasing the inorganic nutrients back to the environment such as carbon dioxide.
Decomposers also help to balance the natural cycles of inorganic matters into the nutrient pool.
Animals in a Grassland Ecosystem
Grassland ecosystem provides natural habitat to a variety of animal species. Grasslands provide a big treat for grazing animals. The most common plant-eating animals found in grasslands include zebras, gazelles, giraffes, wildebeest, rhinoceros, etc. Whereas, the common carnivores include lions, leopards, cheetah, etc.
Apart from this, some other species of animals & insects that belongs to grassland ecosystem includes bison, elephants, greater rhea, maned wolves, monkeys, ostriches, bees, butterflies, ground squirrels, meerkats, mongoose, termites, kangaroos, moles, worms, beetles, mice, gophers, oryx, kudu, gerenuk, etc.
In temperate grasslands, you may find some other species of animals like badgers, swift foxes, coyotes and many species of birds, etc.
A grassland ecosystem contains various animal species that contribute a lot to the ecosystem. If any species is removed from this ecosystem, the entire food chain will have to suffer for this loss. Each animal species depends on each other and plays an essential role in the grassland ecosystem.