Introduction. Temperate grasslands are composed of a rich mix of
grasses and underlain by some of the world's most fertile
soils. Since the development of the steel plow most have been converted
to agricultural lands.
Climate: Semiarid, continental climates of the middle latitudes typically have between 10 and 20 inches of
precipitation a year. Much of this falls as snow, serving as reservoir
of moisture for the beginning of the growing season. Warm to hot
summers are experienced, depending on latitude.
Vegetation. Perennial grasses and
Leguminosae--the sunflower and pea families, respectively] are dominant
Grasses. Perennial grasses, with their growth buds at or
just below the surface, are well-adapted to drought, fire, and cold.
The tiller or narrow, upright stem reduces heat-gain in the hot
summers; the intricate root systems trap moisture and nutrients. Two
basic types are:
- Turf- or sod-forming grasses, with rhizomes or underground
stems from which new plants spring forth; associated with the more
- Bunch grasses, without rhizomes, that reproduce by seed; associated with the drier parts of the biome.
Major regional examples of this biome.
- North America: the prairies
of the Central Lowlands and High Plains of the US and Canada. The
Palouse Prairie of eastern Washington state, the California grasslands,
and the desert grasslands of the Southwest are also temperate
- Eurasia: the steppes from Ukraine eastward through Russia and Mongolia.
- South America: the pampas of Argentina and Uruguay
- Africa: the veld in the Republic of South Africa.
Soils. the world's
most fertile soils are created,
Animals. The animals of the temperate grassland is very low in diversity,
especially in comparison with the tropical grasslands or savannas of
Africa. In North America the dominant herbivores are bison Bison bison)
and pronghorn (the sole member of the Nearctic endemic family,
Antilocapridae). Rodent herbivores include the pocket gopher (another
Nearctic endemic), ground squirrels, and the prairie dog. Carnivores
include coyote (actually an omnivore), badger, and the federally
endangered black-footed ferret, the last two members of the weasel
On the Russian steppes the fauna formerly included wisent (Bison bonasus),
tarpan or wild horse, and saiga antelope, among others. Mole rats,
fossorial members of one of the two mammal families endemic to the
Palearctic, are conspicuous by virtue their many mounds. Polecats and
other members of the weasel family are among the larger, extant