Between the Forest and the Desert
Grassland habitats are places that receive more rain than deserts but less precipitation than forests. Most of the plants here are grasses, which don’t need as much water as forest vegetation.
Every continent except Antarctica has grasslands, but they have different names in different places: In Africa, they’re called savannas and veldts; pampas in South America; steppes in in Europe and Asia; prairies or grasslands in North America; and rangelands in Australia. One-fourth of the planet is covered by grasslands.
Grasslands are usually found in the dry interior of continents, between the mountains and deserts. Many grasslands were formed tens of thousands of years ago after the last ice age, when the Earth began to warm up and the climate became drier.
Wildfires can be bad business, but sometimes they help the habitat stay healthy. Nutrients are released into the soil by microbes that become more active when the soil temperature rises. And because the stems and buds of grasses grow underground, they aren’t damaged by fire and therefore grow back quickly.
Grass isn’t just … grass. Lots of different kinds of grasses grow in the habitat. Wild oats, foxtail, purple coneflowers, buffalo grass, goldenrod, and sunflowers are just a few of the types of grasses that grow and flower on grasslands.
Oh, Give Me a Home …
The Serengeti in northern Tanzania and southwestern Kenya, countries in Africa, is nearly as big as Maryland and is home to animals such as zebras, gazelles, wildebeests, cheetahs, lions, and leopards. One of the largest grasslands in the world is the Eurasian Steppe. It stretches from Hungary to China—almost one-fifth of the way around the world—and has animals like saiga antelope and vultures.
Kangaroo and flightless birds like emu and ostriches live throughout Australia’s rangeland, which covers almost the entire continent. In North America, deer, antelope, rabbits, and prairie dogs roam the grassland. As well as buffalo (usually called bison) … just like the song says!