Temperate Grasslands

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 This photo shows a bison, which is dark brown in color with an even darker head. The hind part of the animal has short fur, and the front of the animal has longer, curly fur.
The American bison (Bison bison), more commonly called the buffalo, is a grazing mammal that once populated American prairies in huge numbers. (credit: Jack Dykinga, USDA Agricultural Research Service)

OpenStax Biology 2e

Temperate grasslands are found throughout central North America, where they are also known as prairies; they are also in Eurasia, where they are known as steppes. Temperate grasslands have pronounced annual fluctuations in temperature with hot summers and cold winters. The annual temperature variation produces specific growing seasons for plants. Plant growth is possible when temperatures are warm enough to sustain plant growth and when ample water is available, which occurs in the spring, summer, and fall. During much of the winter, temperatures are low, and water, which is stored in the form of ice, is not available for plant growth.

Annual precipitation ranges from 25 cm to 75 cm (9.8–29.5 in). Because of relatively lower annual precipitation in temperate grasslands, there are few trees except for those found growing along rivers or streams. The dominant vegetation tends to consist of grasses dense enough to sustain populations of grazing animals. The vegetation is very dense and the soils are fertile because the subsurface of the soil is packed with the roots and rhizomes (underground stems) of these grasses. The roots and rhizomes act to anchor plants into the ground and replenish the organic material (humus) in the soil when they die and decay.

Fires, mainly caused by lightning, are a natural disturbance in temperate grasslands. When fire is suppressed in temperate grasslands, the vegetation eventually converts to scrub and sometimes dense forests with drought-tolerant tree species. Often, the restoration or management of temperate grasslands requires the use of controlled burns to suppress the growth of trees and maintain the grasses.


Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e



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