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Published by: xazosgeologos on Mar 19, 2009
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Credit: Jeff Vanuga/UNEP/NRCS
3.6 Grasslands
rasslands cover roughly 40 per cent of the Earth\u2019s land sur-
face. They are, as their name implies, natural landscapes

where the dominant vegetation is grass. For purposes of
this report shrublands are also considered grasslands. Grasslands
typically receive more water than deserts, but less than forested
regions. Worldwide, these ecosystems provide livelihoods for
nearly 800 million people. They are also a source of forage for
livestock, wildlife habitat, and a host of other resources (White
et al. 2000).

Most of the world\u2019s meat comes from animals that forage
on grasslands. World meat production has nearly doubled since
1975, from 116 million metric tonnes to 233 million metric
tonnes in 2000 (UNEP 2002b). Grasslands and their soils store
about one-third of the global stock of carbon in terrestrial eco-
systems. These lands also are habitat for diverse and biologically
important plants and animals.

Most of the world\u2019s original grasslands
that receive enough rainfall to
support the growing of
crops have been con-
verted to agricultural
lands. In other areas,
irrigation using
imported water
or groundwa-
ter has been
on tradition-
al rangeland
areas (SRM
n.d.). Pre-
cise mea-
surements of
area changes
are dif\ufb01cult
to come by
as there is no
tracking grasslands
and because of the
dif\ufb01culty in identify-
ing what is grassland
and what is not. How-
ever, it has been estimated
that there were over seven million
km2 (three million square miles) of grassland
and scrubland lost between the development of agriculture
and 1982 (Mathews 1983). In addition, it is known that all
croplands were developed either from forests or grasslands.
In that respect, since cropland areas are expanding, it can be
assumed that on the whole, grassland areas are continuing to
decline. On the other hand, large areas of tropical rainforests
are being cleared to provide pasture for livestock. Therefore,
grasslands\u2014at least in the form of pastures\u2014may be expand-
ing in some localized areas.

Worldwide, the quality of surviving grasslands is declining.
This is due primarily to human-induced modi\ufb01cations such
as agriculture, excessive or insuf\ufb01cient \ufb01re, livestock grazing,
fragmentation, and invasive plants and animals (White et al.
2000). Invasion of the world\u2019s grasslands by woody plants is


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