Risser, Paul G. University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Last reviewed:January 2020
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- Animal life
- System functions
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A biological community that contains few trees or shrubs, is characterized by mixed herbaceous (nonwoody) vegetation cover, and is dominated by grasses or grasslike plants. Grasslands are areas of herbaceous terrestrial vegetation dominated by grasses and graminoid species (grasslike plants, such as sedges and rushes). Grasslands occupy approximately 20–40% of the land area on Earth and are the foundation of agriculture, providing grain and cereal crops. Forty million years ago, there were no well-drained grasslands. Grassland ecosystems range from the dense bamboo of the Amazonian tropics to the cool northern steppes of Russia, and from dry plains in the western United States to Canadian arctic grasslands. Mixtures of trees and grasslands occur as savannas at transition zones with forests, as in the east-central United States, or where rainfall is marginal for trees, such as in south-central Africa and Australia. The proportion of original grasslands varies widely among continents, with about 40% remaining in Europe and less than 10% in Australia, although the latter has vast expanses of savannas. In North America, grasslands include the Great Plains (Fig. 1), which extend from southern Texas into Canada. The European meadows cross the continent, and the Eurasian steppe ranges from Hungary eastward through Russia to Mongolia. The pampas cover much of the interior of Argentina and Uruguay. Vast and varied savannas and velds can be found in central and southern Africa and throughout much of Australia. See also: Agriculture; Agroecosystem; Cereal; Ecosystem; Grass crops; Origin of grasslands; Savanna
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