Toggle Nav

Grasslands

Overview

After European settlers came to North America, much of the continent’s grasslands were soon transformed into fields of wheat and its iconic wildlife, such as bison, were wiped out. The consequences were devastating. When drought covered the region in the early 1930s, wheat couldn’t grow and bare fields were swept into powerful dust storms that destroyed farms and made the land uninhabitable for years.

Grasslands have many names—prairies in North America, Asian steppes, savannahs and veldts in Africa, Australian rangelands, and pampas, llanos and cerrados in South America. But they are all places where there is too little rain for trees to grow in great numbers. Instead, these lands are covered in grasses and grass-like plants that have growing points close to the soil and can keep on growing even after being nibbled on by animals. These grasses can support high densities of grazing animals, such as zebra, antelope and bison. And these herds in turn support iconic predators, including lions and cheetahs.

Grassland ecosystems are particularly fragile because water is scarce. Grasslands in Australia, Africa and South America are often dependent on regular episodes of fire for renewal. They are also prime targets for human development, which can have devastating consequences. Humans plow grasslands to plant wheat and other crops, replace wildlife with domestic livestock, and kill predator and prey alike. Few grasslands are protected from development.

Meet the Bison: Facts About America's Iconic Species

Bison are the largest native grazers of America’s Northern Great Plains. Take a look at why bison are unique to our landscape and what WWF is doing to help.

big bison sitting

Why They Matter

  • Herds of Wildlife

    Grassland ecosystems can support high densities of grazing animals. They are home to many familiar and fascinating species that live in herds, including zebras and antelopes, and the predators that prey on them, like lions and cheetahs.

Threats

Grassland landscapes are sensitive to disturbance. Many have been changed forever as humans have moved in and plowed the land to make room for farms, replacing wildlife with herds of livestock and hunting and killing key species.

Competition with Domestic Livestock

Humans have long looked to grasslands and their ability to support large herds of animals as an opportunity. Grassland wildlife around the world must compete with domestic livestock for food and water. In some places, livestock are kept in such large densities that overgrazing and soil erosion occurs, degrading the landscape.

Conversion to Agriculture

To feed a growing human population, most of the world’s grasslands, including the American prairies, have been converted from natural landscapes to fields of corn, wheat or other crops. Grasslands that have remained largely intact until now, such as East African savannahs, are at risk of being lost to agriculture.

Changes in Species Composition

The plants and animals that live in a grassland are connected through a vast web of interactions. But the removal of key species—such as buffalo and prairie dogs in the American West—and introduction of invasive species, like cane toads in northern Australia, have disrupted the balance in these ecosystems and damaged a host of other species.

Hunting

Grasslands are home to some of the most magnificent animals on the planet—elephants, bison, lions—and hunters have found them to be enticing prey. But when hunting is not controlled or is conducted illegally, species can be wiped out.

What WWF Is Doing

Women cutting grass

Working with Local Stakeholders

WWF works with local stakeholders to preserve biodiversity and ensure that natural resources are used in a sustainable manner that benefits the local community. We also work with governments and local communities to conserve and sustainably manage the water and other resources in grassland ecosystems.

Preventing Illegal Wildlife Hunting

Because illegal hunting is a problem across central Africa and many other areas of the world, WWF works with TRAFFIC, the world’s largest wildlife trade monitoring network, to stop illegal wildlife trade. WWF also advocates for nations to more effectively enforce wildlife laws and has trained local wildlife authorities in modern methods of antipoaching and provided equipment and provisions for antipoaching teams in several nations.

Experts

xShare Your Thoughts

Just 10 minutes of your time can help improve this site. By participating in a quick activity, you can help us make worldwildlife.org even better.

Start SurveyClose this box