The Grassland Biome Habitat

Where Grasses Rule and Trees Are Sparse

A lone giraffe in a grassy savannah

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The grassland biome includes terrestrial habitats that are dominated by grasses and have relatively few large trees or shrubs. There are three main types of grasslands—temperate grasslands, tropical grasslands (also known as savannas), and steppe grasslands.

Grassland Biome Key Characteristics

The following are the key characteristics of the grassland biome:

  • Vegetation structure that is dominated by grasses
  • Semi-arid climate
  • Rainfall and soils insufficient to support significant tree growth
  • Most common at mid-latitudes and near the interiors of continents
  • Grasslands are often exploited for agricultural use

Classification

The grassland biome is divided into the following habitats:

  • Temperate grasslands: Temperate grasslands are dominated by grasses, lacking trees and large shrubs. Temperate grasslands include tall-grass prairies which are wet and humid, and dry, short-grass prairies that experience hot summers and cold winters. The soil of temperate grasslands has a nutrient-rich upper layer, but fires that prevent trees and shrubs from growing often accompany seasonal droughts.
  • Tropical grasslands: Tropical grasslands are located near the equator. They have warmer, wetter climates than temperate grasslands and experience more pronounced seasonal droughts. Savannahs are dominated by grasses but also have some scattered trees. Their soil is very porous and drains rapidly. Tropical grasslands are found in Africa, India, Australia, Nepal, and South America.
  • Steppe grasslands: Steppe grasslands border on semi-arid deserts. The grasses found in the steppe are much shorter than those of temperate and tropical grasslands. Steppe grasslands lack trees except along the banks of rivers and streams.

Sufficient Rainfall

Most grasslands experience a dry season and a rainy season. During the dry season, grasslands can be susceptible to fires, which often start as a result of lightning strikes. The annual rainfall in a grassland habitat is greater than the annual rainfall that occurs in desert habitats, and while they receive enough rain to grow grasses and other scrubby plants, it's not enough to support the growth of significant numbers of trees. The soils of grasslands also limit the vegetation structure that grows in them. Grassland soils are generally too shallow and dry to support tree growth.

Variety of Wildlife

Some common plant species that occur in grasslands include buffalo grass, asters, coneflowers, clover, goldenrods, and wild indigos. Grasslands support a variety of animal wildlife as well, including reptiles, mammals, amphibians, birds and many types of invertebrates. The dry grasslands of Africa are among the most ecologically diverse of all grasslands and support populations of animals such as giraffes, zebras, and rhinoceroses. The grasslands of Australia provide habitat for kangaroos, mice, snakes, and a variety of birds. The grasslands of North America and Europe support wolves, wild turkeys, coyotes, Canadian geese, cranes, bobcats, and eagles. Additional grassland wildlife includes:

  • African elephant (Loxodonta africana): The two front incisors of African elephants grow into large tusks that curve forward. They have a large head, large ears, and a long muscular trunk.
  • Lion (Panthera leo): The largest of all African cats, lions inhabit savannas and the Gir Forest in northwest India.
  • American bison (Bison bison): Millions used to roam North America's grasslands, boreal regions, and scrublands but their relentless slaughter for meat, hides, and sport drove the species to the brink of extinction.
  • Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta): Inhabits of the grasslands, savannas, and semi-deserts of sub-Saharan Africa, hyena's have the highest population density in the Serengeti, a vast plains ecosystem stretching from northern Tanzania to southwestern Kenya.