Temperate grasslands are terrestrial biomes composed primarily of grasses and shrubs. Temperate grasslands exist in all continents of the world except Antarctica. The annual rain averages 25-75 cm (10-30 inches) of rainfall usually in the form of snow. High winds are common in temperate grasslands. The temperature varies from semi-arid to semi-humid. Temperate grasslands have two seasons: a growing warm to hot season and a dormant usually freezing season. The soil is composed of a rich mixture of nutrients and minerals. The animals inhabiting temperate grasslands have acclimatized to the dry, windy environment prevalent in these biomes.
Temperate grasslands are found in every continent north or south of the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, including North America, Eurasia, South America and Australia, and they cover approximately one quarter of the Earth’s land. These biomes are characterized by their predominant grassland vegetation, although, tropical grasslands, such as those found in the African savanna have trees and shrubs scattered throughout the land. Rainfall is generally scarcer in temperate grasslands than in tropical savannas. This determines the tall grass prairies and the short grass steppes found in North America.
Temperate grasslands experience a warm to hot summer season, depending on the latitude, and a dormant, generally, freezing season in the winter, during which the growth of grass is hindered by the cold. Temperate grasslands at continental mid-latitudes often experience 25-75 cm (10-30 inches) of precipitation every year. Tropical grasslands are predominantly warm all year round; however, they usually have a dry and a rainy season. Grasslands in the southern hemisphere receive more precipitation than those in the northern hemisphere, with grasses up to 2 meters (7 ft.), extending deep into the soil.
The predominant vegetation consists of grasses and shrubs, although in the African savanna, shrubs and trees can be seen. Grasslands are dominated by a few species of grasses; the most common of which include buffalo grass, Johnson grass, blue gamma grass, and a number of wheat and burley. Typical flowers include coneflowers, goldenrods, vetches, asters, sweet clovers and Indian blankets. Each species of grass thrives better based on average rainfall, temperature and soil conditions. The growth of trees is hindered by fire, droughts, grassland strong root systems and human activity.
The animals inhabiting temperate grasslands have adapted to the prevailing windy and dry conditions. The temperate grasslands show a smaller animal diversity compared to the tropical grasslands of the African savannas. The dominant herbivores in North America are Bison, pronghorns and deer. Rodent herbivores include mice, rabbit, skunk, pocket gopher, ground squirrels and the prairie dog. Carnivores, such as the coyote, badger and the black-footed ferret. Bird’s, including owls, red-tailed hawks, golden eagle, killdeer, grouse, meadowlarks and snakes, such as the foxsnake, among others.
On the Eurasian steppes, human activity has led to the near-extinction of most large grassing mammals. Those that remain include the saiga antelope, the steppe polecat and the Tatar fox. The wisent, which was hunted to extinction, was reintroduced into several European countries. Animals in the Australian rangelands include the kangaroo, emu, dingo, wallaby and wombat, among others. Some animals have been introduced, such as the camel, goat, donkey, rabbit, horse and sheep. The African savanna is home to species, including the elephant, cheetah, giraffe, hippopotamus, hyena, leopard, lion, rhinos, warthogs and zebras.
The soil in temperate grasslands tends to be highly rich in nutrients and minerals, making them suited for agriculture. The North American tallgrass prairie and the Argentinian Pampas receive moderate rainfall which, along with their rich soils, makes them especially suited for agriculture. Much of the North American prairie has been turned into one of the richest agricultural regions of the world. The upper layers are the most fertile due to the buildup of dead branching stems and roots which produce rich humus, providing a rich source of nourishment for plants.
Most of the temperate grassland biome has been converted into farms and ranches due to its rich fertile soil, resulting in an excessive use of the land for agricultural purposes. The fragmentation of grasslands has decreased biodiversity. Major population centers have been established around temperate grassland regions of Europe, Eastern China and North America. This occurred in the first population settlements, in Europe and Asia, several centuries ago, and in the past centuries in North America. According to wri.org, soil degradation stemming from the use of fertilizers and pesticides, salt buildup from irrigation, along with climate and human activities can turn these healthy soils into wasteland.