Grassland recovery doesn’t happen overnight

Bison graze in Konza prairie, Kansas, where fire is needed to suppress woody encroachment. Credit: Barbara van Horn/Reprinted with permission from Suding et al., Science

Grasslands’ biodiversity and resilience to disturbances such as fire, heat and drought is the result of a slow process over hundreds of years, like that of old growth forests, researchers found.

In a special issue of the journal Science focusing on grasslands, the study contradicts assumptions that grasslands’ develop and recover rapidly, posing new challenges to restoration efforts.

“Old growth grasslands have a unique suite of characteristics that develop over a really long time. Recovering grasslands do not have the same species or the same characteristics as they did prior to soil tilling or tree planting, and they take centuries to redevelop,” said senior author Katharine Suding, an ecologist at the University of Colorado. “It’s an important reminder that we need to conserve the ancient grasslands that are still intact.”

Grasslands account for nearly 40% of land-based ecosystems, providing habitat for a wide diversity of wildlife.

Read more from the University of Colorado.