Temperate grasslands (climate, vegetation, animals)
Biomes are the world’s primary habitats. These habitats are identified by the vegetation and the animals that inhabit them. The location of each biome is determined by the regional climate. Grassland biomes consist of temperate grasslands and tropical grasslands, or savannas.
Key takeaways: Temperate grasslands
- Temperate grasslands are areas of open grassy plains sparsely populated by trees.
- Various names of temperate grasslands include pampas, downs, and veldts.
- Temperate grasslands are found in various regions north and south of the equator, including Argentina, Australia, and central North America.
- Temperatures vary seasonally with tornadoes, blizzards and fires occurring in many areas of temperate grasslands.
- Temperate grasslands are home to many large and small herbivores.
Like savannas, temperate grasslands are areas of open grassland with very few trees. Temperate grasslands, however, are located in cooler climatic regions and receive on average less rainfall than savannas.
Temperatures in temperate grasslands vary seasonally. In winter, temperatures can drop well below 0 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas. In summer, temperatures can reach over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperate grasslands receive low to moderate precipitation on average per year (20-35 inches). Most of this precipitation is in the form of snow in the temperate grasslands of the northern hemisphere.
Tornadoes, blizzards and fires
Three natural factors that impact temperate grassland biomes are tornadoes, blizzards, and fires. Part of the plains region in the United States is called Tornado alley due to the hyperactivity of the tornado. This region stretches from northern Texas to North Dakota and stretches east to Ohio. Tornadoes are created when warm Gulf air meets cold Canadian air, generating about 700 tornadoes per year. Temperate grasslands located in cooler regions also experience freezing winters and blizzards. Strong winds generate sudden snowstorms that spread across the plains. Due to the hot and dry climate of summer, forest fires are common in temperate grasslands. These fires are usually started by lightning but are also the result of human activity. Dry, thick grass fuels fires that can spread for hundreds of miles. While the fires are destructive in nature, they also ensure that the grasslands remain grasslands and are not overgrown with scrub vegetation.
Grasslands are located on all continents except Antarctica. Some temperate grassland locations include:
- Argentina – pampas
- Australia – low
- Central North America – plains and prairies
- Hungary – puszta
- New Zealand – low
- Russia – steppes
- South Africa – velds
Low to moderate precipitation makes temperate grasslands a difficult place for tall plants such as woody shrubs and trees to grow. The grasses in this region have adapted to cold temperatures, drought and occasional fires. These grasses have deep, massive root systems that establish themselves in the soil. This allows the grasses to stay firmly rooted in the soil to reduce erosion and conserve water.
Vegetation in temperate grasslands can be short or tall. In areas that receive little rainfall, the grasses stay low to the ground. Taller grasses can be found in warmer areas that receive more rainfall. Here are some examples of vegetation in temperate grasslands: bison grass, cacti, sagebrush, perennial grasses, sunflowers, clovers and wild indigos.
Temperate grasslands are home to many large herbivores. Some of them include bison, gazelles, zebras, rhinos, and wild horses. Carnivores, such as lions and wolves, are also found in temperate grasslands. Other animals in this region include: deer, prairie dogs, mice, jack rabbits, skunks, coyotes, snakes, foxes, owls, badgers, blackbirds, grasshoppers, larks meadows, sparrows, quails and hawks.
More terrestrial biomes
Temperate grasslands are one of the many biomes. Other terrestrial biomes in the world include:
- Chaparrals: Characterized by dense shrubs and grasses, this biome experiences dry summers and wet winters.
- Deserts: Many people mistakenly assume that all deserts are hot. Deserts are classified according to location, temperature, and amount of precipitation.
- Savannahs: This large prairie biome is home to some of the fastest animals on the planet.
- Taiga: Also known as coniferous forests, this biome is populated by dense evergreen trees.
- Temperate forests: These forests have distinct seasons and are populated by deciduous trees (shed their leaves in winter).
- Tropical Rainforests: This biome receives abundant precipitation and is characterized by tall, dense vegetation. Located near the equator, this biome experiences warm temperatures all year round.
- Tundra: As the coldest biome in the world, tundra is characterized by extremely cold temperatures, permafrost, treeless landscapes, and low rainfall.
- Hoare, Ben. Temperate grasslands. Rain Tree, 2011.
- Nunez, Christine. “Information and facts about the prairies.” National Geographic, March 15, 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/habitats/grasslands/.