Grasslands are an important part of the earth’s many ecological communities, originally covering as much as 25% of the earth’s surface. They have provided expansive grazing land for both wild and domesticated animals, and offered flat areas that have been ploughed to grow crops. Grasslands occur in areas with hot summer temperatures and low precipitation. Areas with less rainfall are deserts and areas with more rainfall tend to be forested.
There are two broad types of grasslands in the world: Tropical Savannah and Temperate Grassland.
Tropical Savannah occurs in Africa, Australia, South America and Indonesia. Rainfall of 50 to 130 centimetres a year is concentrated in six to eight months with drought the rest of the year. Soils are usually very thin, supporting only grasses and forbs (flowering plants), with only scattered trees and shrubs. Differences in climate and soils create many variations in the plant communities and animal species throughout the Savannah. In many areas, the grasslands have been burned to maintain a healthy grass crop for grazing animals. In some areas the Savannah has been expanded by cutting the forest and burning the area each year to prevent the return of trees.
Temperate grasslands have less rainfall (25 to 90 centimetres) than tropical grasslands and a much greater range of temperatures from winter to summer than Savannah. There are two broad types of grasslands in temperate latitudes: Prairie and Steppe.
Prairie grasslands are found across the globe. They have a variety of names in other parts of the world: pampas in South America, veldt in South Africa and puszta in Hungary. These areas have deep, rich soils and are dominated by tall grasses; trees and shrubs are restricted to river valleys, wetlands and other areas with more moisture. Over the years the native grass species on the extensive areas of level ground have been ploughed and fields seeded. Many of these grasslands have been lost to cereal crops.
Steppe grasslands receive only 25 to 50 centimetres of rainfall each year and the grasses are much shorter than those on prairie grasslands. They are also not as widespread, occurring only in Central and Eastern Europe, Northern Eurasia and Western North America.
Grasslands in BC
In British Columbia grasslands occur mainly on the dry eastern side of the many north-south mountain ranges that dominate the landscape of the province. The majority of these grasslands are northern extensions of the Great Basin shrub-steppe grasslands found in Washington State and further south to Mexico. The complex landscape of mountainous British Columbia has resulted in much more variety in our grasslands than those in the large plateau landscapes of the western United States.
Although British Columbia's grasslands seem to go on forever in some parts of the province, they are not extensive on a world scale and cannot be found on the map at the top of the page.
British Columbia’s grasslands, like many others around the world, are important for the ranching industry that has raised livestock in BC since the 1850s. Grassland valleys also provide important transportation corridors and agricultural areas. Grasslands are also becoming the places where people choose to live in ever-spreading settled areas. There are no large, undisturbed areas of grassland let in British Columbia.
Click here to learn more about the World’s Grasslands.
Where are BC's grasslands?