Grassland Ecosystem

Grasslands are areas dominated by grasses. They occupy about 20% of the land on the earth surface. Grasslands occur in both in tropical and temperate regions where rainfall is not enough to support the growth of trees.

Grasslands are found in areas having well-defined hot and dry, warm and rainy seasons.

This article will provide information about the Grassland Ecosystem, the classification of grasslands, other different names of grasslands, in the context of the IAS Exam.

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This is a part of the Geography and Environment & Ecology section of the UPSC Syllabus.

The candidates can read more relevant information from the links provided below:

Energy Flow In Ecosystem Physiographic Divisions of Great Plains of India
National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) Evergreen Forests in India
Deciduous Forests in India Montane Forests in India

Types of Natural Ecosystem

A natural ecosystem is a setup of animals and plants which functions as a unit and is capable of maintaining its identity. A natural ecosystem is totally dependent on solar energy. There are two main categories of ecosystems. They are:

  1. Terrestrial ecosystem – Ecosystems found on land e.g. forest, grasslands, deserts, tundra.
  2. Aquatic ecosystem – Plants and animal communities that are found in water bodies. These can be further classified into two subgroups.
    • Freshwater ecosystems, such as rivers, lakes and ponds.
    • Marine ecosystems, such as oceans, estuaries.

Grassland Ecosystems – An Introduction

  • Grasslands are one of the intermediate stages in ecological succession and cover a part of the land on all the altitudes and latitudes at which climatic and soil conditions do not allow the growth of trees.
  • Grasslands make up almost a quarter of the total land surface. The types of plants that grow here greatly depend on what the climate and soil are like.
  • Grasslands cover areas where rainfall is usually low and/or the soil depth and quality is poor.
  • The low rainfall prevents the growth of numerous trees and shrubs but is sufficient to support the growth of grass cover during the monsoon.

Different Names of Grasslands

Grasslands are known by various names in different parts of the world.

Other Names of Grasslands
Place Name of the grassland
North America Prairies
Eurasia (Europe and Asia) Steppes
Africa Savanna
South America Pampas
India Grassland, Savanna
Brazil Campos
Venezuela Llanos
South Africa Veld
Australia Down

Tropical grasslands are commonly called Savannas. They occur in eastern Africa, South America, Australia and India. Savannas form a complex ecosystem with scattered medium-size trees in grasslands.

Structure/Components of Grassland Ecosystem

The different structural components of the grassland ecosystem can be classified as abiotic and biotic components.

Biotic Components

  • Producers – In grassland, producers are mainly grasses; though, a few herbs & shrubs also contribute to the primary production of biomass.
  • Consumers – In a grassland, consumers are of three main types:
    • Primary Consumers – The primary consumers are herbivores feeding directly on grasses. Herbivores such as grazing mammals (e.g., cows, sheep, deer, rabbit, buffaloes, etc), insects (e.g., Dysdercus, Coccinella, Leptocorisa, etc), some termites and millipedes are the primary consumers.
    • Secondary Consumers – These are carnivores that feed on primary consumers (Herbivores). The animals like foxes, jackals, snakes, frogs, lizards, birds etc., are the carnivores feeding on the herbivores. These are the secondary consumers of the grassland ecosystem.
    • Tertiary Consumers – These include hawks etc. which feed on secondary consumers.
  • Decomposers – These include bacteria of death and decay, moulds and fungi (e.g., Mucor, Penicillium, Aspergillus, Rhizopus, etc). These bring the minerals back to the soil to be available to the producers again.

Abiotic Components

  • These include the nutrients present in the soil and the aerial environment.
  • The elements required by plants are hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur.
  • These are supplied by the soil and air in the form of CO2, water, nitrates, phosphates and sulphates.
  • In addition to these, some trace elements are also present in the soil.

Flora and Fauna of Grassland Ecosystem

  • Grasses are the dominating plants, with scattered drought resistant thorny trees in the tropical grasslands.
  • Badgers, fox, ass, zebra, antelope are found grazing on grasslands that support the dairy and leather industries.
  • Grasslands also support the large population of rodents, reptiles and insects.

Functions of Grassland Ecosystem

They perform certain functions. These are:

  • Energy flow through the food chain
  • Nutrient cycling (biogeochemical cycles)
  • Ecological succession or ecosystem development
  • Homeostasis (or cybernetic) or feedback control mechanisms
  • To increase the fertility of the soil and to regulate the productivity of the ecosystem.
  • To reduce the leaching of minerals due to low rainfall.

Economic Importance of Grasslands

  • Grasslands are the grazing areas of many rural communities.
  • Farmers who keep cattle or goats, as well as shepherds who keep sheep, are highly dependent on grasslands.
  • Domestic animals are grazed in the ‘common’ land of the village.
  • Fodder is collected and stored to feed cattle when there is no grass left for them to graze in summer.
  • The grass is also used to thatch houses and farm sheds.
  • The thorny bushes and branches of the few trees that are seen in grasslands are used as a major source of fuelwood.
  • Overgrazing by huge herds of domestic livestock has degraded many grasslands.
  • Grasslands have diverse species of insects that pollinate crops.
  • There are also predators of these insects such as small mammals like shrews, reptiles like lizards, birds of prey, and amphibia such as frogs and toads.
  • All these carnivorous animals help to control insect pests in adjoining agricultural lands.

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Classification of Grasslands

As climate plays an important role in the formation of grasslands, it is generally used as a basis to divide the world’s grasslands into two broad categories: those that occur in the temperate region and those that occur in the tropical regions.

Tropical Grasslands

  • These occur on either side of the equator and extend to the tropics.
  • This vegetation grows in areas of moderate to a low amount of rainfall.
  • The grass can grow very tall, about 3 to 4 metres in height.
  • Savannah grasslands of Africa are of this type.
  • Elephants, zebras, giraffes, deer, leopards are common in tropical grasslands

Temperate Grasslands

  • These are found in the mid latitudinal zones and in the interior part of the continents.
  • Usually, the grass here is short and nutritious.
  • Wild buffaloes, bison, antelopes are common in the temperate region.

Grasslands in India

  • In India, grasslands are found as village grazing grounds (Gauchar) and extensive low pastures of dry regions of the western part of the country and also in Alpine Himalayas.
  • Perennial grasses are the dominant plant community.
  • In the Himalayan mountains, there are high, cold Himalayan pastures.
  • There are tracts of tall elephant grass in the low-lying Terai belt south of the Himalayan foothills.
  • There are semi-arid grasslands in Western India, parts of Central India, and the Deccan Plateau.
  • Patches of shola grasslands that occur on hill slopes alongside the extremely moist evergreen forests in South India.
  • In some regions, grasslands also support a variety of other herbaceous plants like sedges, legumes and members of the sunflower family.
  • Grasslands support numerous herbivores, from minute insects to very large mammals.
  • Rats, mice, rodents, deer, elephants, dogs, buffalo, tigers, lions, ferrets are some common mammals of grasslands.
  • In northeast India, the one-horned rhinoceros is amongst the threatened animal of grassland in this region.
  • A large number of avian fauna makes the grassland colourful.

Interested candidates may like to know more about the natural vegetation of India. Click the linked article to learn about it.

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Other related links:

IAS Prelims: UPSC MCQ On Environment Environment and Ecology Books for IAS
Documents Required for UPSC Exam UPSC Previous Year Question Papers
UPSC Notes PDF Topic-Wise GS 3 Questions for UPSC Mains
UPSC Mains General Studies Paper-3 Strategy, Syllabus & Structure NCERT Notes on Geography
Best Optional Subjects for UPSC UPSC Calendar 2024


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