Grassland Biome

Map of grassland biomeThe Grassland Biome is found chiefly on the high central plateau of South Africa, and the inland areas of KwaZuluNatal and the Eastern Cape. The topography is mainly flat and rolling, but includes the escarpment itself. Altitude varies from near sea level to 2 850 m above sea level.

Grasslands (also known locally as Grassveld) are dominated by a single layer of grasses. The amount of cover depends on rainfall and the degree of grazing. Trees are absent, except in a few localized habitats. Geophytes (bulbs) are often abundant. Frosts, fire and grazing maintain the grass dominance and prevent the establishment of trees.

There are two categories of grass plants: sweet grasses have a lower fibre content, maintain their nutrients in the leaves in winter and are therefore palatable to stock. Sour grasses have a higher fibre content and tend to withdraw their nutrients from the leaves during winter so that they are unpalatable to stock. At higher rainfall and on more acidic soils, sour grasses prevail, with 625 mm per year taken as the level at which unpalatable grasses predominate. C4 grasses dominate throughout the biome, except at the highest altitudes where C3 grasses become prominent.

Grass plants tolerate grazing, fire, and even mowing, well: most produce new stems readily, using a wide variety of strategies. Overgrazing tends to increase the proportion of pioneer, creeping and annual grasses, and it is in the transition zones between sweet and sour grass dominance that careful management is required to maintain the abundance of sweet grasses. The Grassland Biome is the mainstay of dairy, beef and wool production in South Africa. Pastures may be augmented in wetter areas by the addition of legumes and sweet grasses.

The Grassland Biome is the cornerstone of the maize crop, and many grassland types have been converted to this crop. Sorghum, wheat and sunflowers are also farmed on a smaller scale.

Urbanization is a major additional influence on the loss of natural areas - the Witwatersrand is centred in this biome. The Grassland Biome is considered to have an extremely high biodiversity, second only to the Fynbos Biome. Rare plants are often found in the grasslands, especially in the escarpment area. These rare species are often endangered, comprising mainly endemic geophytes or dicotyledonous herbaceous plants. Very few grasses are rare or endangered. The scenic splendour of the escarpment region attracts many tourists.


Click images to enlarge  
Grassland 1
Kniphofia caulescens in wet seepage areas near Leropong, Lesotho highlands.
Grassland 2
Shrub encroachment in the sub-alpine grasslands, Lesotho highlands.
Grassland 3
Wetland 'bog' system in the alpine belt of the Lesotho highlands.
 Grassland 4
Erosion of high-altitude bog in Lesotho highlands due to overgrazing by large domestic animals, particularly horses.

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