If you’ve ever been just east of the Rocky Mountains, from eastern Colorado to Kansas and Nebraska, you’ve seen miles and miles of prairie or grassland. Unlike the East Coast or the Pacific Northwest, this area doesn’t get enough rainfall for forests to grow. Grasses and wildflowers grow instead. As the grass dies and decomposes, it makes rich soil. In the Midwest, much of the grassland has been made into farmland because the soil is fertile.
Russia, Eastern Europe and other parts of the world also have grasslands, known as prairie, steppe or pampas.
- Grass is one tough plant. It tolerates freezing temperatures, fire, drought and grazing animals.
- Millions of bison once roamed the American plains, until they were hunted almost to extinction. Today, they are making a comeback. Farmers raise bison for their lean, tasty meat. In addition to bison, wild horses, antelope and deer may graze on grasslands. Sheep and cattle ranchers also use grasslands for their livestock.
- All regions with temperate grasslands have four seasons, with cold winters and warm summers.
Grassland must be managed carefully if it is turned to farmland. During periods of drought, the soil dries up and blows away because it no longer has the natural grasses to hold it in place.
- Besides grazing animals, temperate grasslands are home to many birds, such as pheasants, grouse and quail. Burrowing animals, including rattlesnakes, prairie dogs, armadillos, weasels and foxes also make their home here.
- Decompose: decay; break down
- Fertile: capable of sustaining life and growing plants
- Bison: the American bison is also sometimes called buffalo
- Antelope: fast, graceful deer-like animals
- Drought: period of insufficient rainfall
- Pheasant: a type of wild bird, similar to a chicken
Head over to the University of California Santa Barbara to learn more about temperate grasslands.
Question: Are grasslands important to people?
Answer: Areas that were once covered with grasslands are now farms, where most of the world’s food grows. It’s important that we keep some of the grasslands intact to protect the soil and provide homes for wildlife.
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