Grassland Meaning, Origin, Types, and Description Explained

A grassland, also called a pampa, savanna, steppe or prairie; is an ecologic region or zone where grass species are the dominant plants.

This article discusses the grassland biome (or ecosystem) from various perspectives, as outlined below;


-Grassland Meaning: 7 Ways to Define the Grassland Biome

-How the Grassland Formed: Origin of Grassland Biome

-6 Types of Grasslands Explained

-General Description of Grasslands






Grassland Meaning: 7 Ways to Define the Grassland Biome

The grassland is a natural area in which the vegetation is dominantly composed of grasses, with less prevalence of other plant species like shrubs and trees.

An alternate definition of grasslands could make reference to the role of environmental tolerance and survival in the pattern of vegetation within this ecologic zone;

Grassland is any geographic region whose climatic, edaphic, topographic and biochemical characteristics support the growth of grass vegetation.

In defining the grassland biome, it can be portrayed based on its attributes relative to other types of ecosystems, as follows;

A grassland is a region whose ecologic and geographic characteristics are intermediate, between the characteristics of temperate forests and desert ecosystems.

What this implies is that processes that form and modify grasslands have some attributes of forest vegetative-growth, as well as desertification. The following definition addresses some of the attributes and outcomes of these processes;

The grassland is an ecosystem characterized by level topography, open land, sparse tree-growth, and prevalence of grasses.

The potential uses of grasslands can be used to define them, as follows;

Grassland biome is a region dominated by grasses, sedges and rushes; and which can be used for pastoral farming, as well as for recreational and industrial purposes [5].

Climatic factors can be used to define grasslands;

Grassland is an ecosystem with semiarid or sub-humid conditions, which favor the growth of grass vegetation while limiting shrub and tree growth.

Lastly, grasslands can be defined with reference to their geographic locations around the world;

A grassland is an ecosystem which occupies parts of Africa, Southeast South America, Argentina, Uruguay, Mongolia and Russia, and dominated by grassy vegetation.


How the Grassland Formed: Origin of Grassland Biome

The grassland biome is a result of a series of bioclimatic modifications and adaptations occurring over an extended period of time.

Studies have linked the origin of grasslands to the evolution of the Gramineae family, to which all grasses belong. These studies suggest that grasslands originated at the time of appearance of the earliest graminoids, over 60 million years ago, in the Early Cenozoic Era [4].

The origin of grasslands also coincides with changes in global climate. Precipitation is one of the climatic characteristics that were changed during this period, leading to the formation of different ecological zones.

The process of ecological transition from one biome to another also plays a role in grassland formation. Commonly, grasslands are formed as intermediate systems in the prolonged desertification process whereby forest ecosystems are transformed to deserts [10].

Further changes in global climate, alongside landform modifications, soil changes and human activities, have led to the spread of the grassland biome across various parts of the world.


6 Types of Grasslands Explained

The two main types of grasslands are temperate and tropical grasslands.

A broader classification will however include other types like Xeric, flooded, tundra, and montane grasslands [8]. These are discussed below;


1). Tropical Grassland as one of the Main Types of Grasslands

The tropical grassland is a grassy ecological biome which occurs in sub-Saharan Africa and the northern parts of Australia [1].

Also known as the savanna, this biome is characterized by a stratum of low-height vegetation which occurs alongside sparsely-distributed shrubs and trees.

Tropical grasslands typically occur close to the equator. The weather in this ecosystem is generally warm, with alternate rainy and dry seasons occurring annually.

Average precipitation in tropical grasslands ranges from about 50 to 130 cm [3].

Partly as a result of global warming, tropical grasslands are susceptible to manmade as well as natural hazards like heatwave events and wildfires. Also, the biome often occurs within geographic proximity of other ecosystems like deserts and forests.

Human activity and anthropogenic processes have also affected the stability of bioclimatic conditions in tropical grasslands, like temperature and vegetation growth rate. One of the ecological problems of the biome is relatively-low soil fertility, which is one of the factors limiting tree and shrub growth.

Tropical Grassland as one of the Types of Grasslands (Credit: Vyacheslav Argenberg 2010 .CC BY 4.0.)
Tropical Grassland as one of the Types of Grasslands (Credit: Vyacheslav Argenberg 2010 .CC BY 4.0.)


2). Temperate Grassland as one of the Main Types of Grasslands

Temperate grassland, also called steppe or pampa, occurs in parts of Eurasia, North and South America, and southern Australia.

In terms of basic ecological attributes, this type of grassland is similar to the tropical type. However, there are minor differences in climate between the two, so that the temperate grasslands experience lower temperature and less precipitation.

Average rainfall in temperate grasslands ranges from 25 to 75 cm [6].

Ecologic stability is much less in the temperate grassland than in other types. As a result, temperature and vegetation growth rate may vary across a wide range.

Unlike the savanna, soil in temperate grasslands has a fair degree of fertility. However, leaching is also a common phenomenon in this ecosystem, often leading to the loss of soil nutrients.

The relative fertility of temperate grasslands, as well as their level topography, has resulted in their use for agricultural purposes in various parts of the world [9].

temperate grassland
Temperate Grassland as one of the Types of Grasslands (Credit: 1brettsnyder 2010)


3). Xeric Grassland

Xeric grasslands occur in parts of North Africa and Asia, including Kenya, Ethiopia, and Syria.

This ecosystem has climatic characteristics similar to those of a desert. Conditions in the xeric grassland are relatively harsh, with high temperature, as well as low precipitation and humidity.

Alternatively referred to as xeric shrubland, this ecosystem supports the growth of short, perennial grass species. Xeric grasslands are also particularly susceptible to hazards like desertification and wildfires.

Xeric Grassland as one of the Types of Grasslands (Credit: AdamPG 2004 .CC BY-SA 3.0.)
Xeric Grassland as one of the Types of Grasslands (Credit: AdamPG 2004 .CC BY-SA 3.0.)


4). Flooded Grassland

Flooded grasslands are characterized by waterlogged or flooded conditions for most part of the year.

This type of grassland occurs in parts of North and South America, as well as Africa.

In Africa, flooded grasslands include the Zambezian, Saharan-Sudd and Nile Delta grasslands.

Fauna biodiversity in flooded grasslands is relatively-high, including a broad range of mammalian and non-mammalian species that span all levels of the energy pyramid in terms of feeding habits and adaptive behaviors.  


5). Montane Grassland

The montane grassland is a grass-dominated ecosystem which typically occurs at high altitude [7].

Because of its elevation, this zone often overlies forest ecosystems that occur at lower altitude.

Montane grassland vegetation include mostly grasses and shrubs, and soil in this ecosystem is often produced from the weathering of basaltic rocks. Climatic conditions in montane grasslands are generally cooler than other types.


6). Tundra Grassland

Alternatively called ‘polar grassland,’ tundra grasslands bears similarities to montane grasslands.

These ecosystems may occur at high elevation, within regions with cool, low-temperature climatic conditions.

Tundra grasslands are the result of increased temperatures and ice-melting in the tundra. This may occur naturally in the summer, or may be induced by global warming. Tundra ecosystems are themselves capable of transforming to grasslands due to sparse tree growth as a result of edaphic and climatic factors.


General Description of Grasslands

1). Climate

The climatic condition in grasslands varies significantly depending on geographic location.

Generally, precipitation in grasslands lies between 60 and 150 cm, while temperature ranges from as low as -5°C to 20°C [2].

Tropical grasslands differ from temperate grasslands in terms of climatic conditions. While tropical grasslands may experience rainy and dry seasons with significantly-high temperatures during the latter, temperate grasslands are more susceptible to cold winters and warm summers.

2). Biodiversity

Various species of both flora and fauna can be found in grasslands.

These species are adapted to perform essential biological activities under the prevalent conditions in their habitat.

Plants in grasslands include purple needlegrass, galleta, blue grama, milkweed, buffalo grass, asters and hyssop. Grassland animals include coyotes. zebras, badgers, foxes, and wildebeest.

3). Locations

Temperate grasslands of the world include prairies of North America, steppes of Eurasia, and pampas of Argentina; while tropical grasslands include the savannas of northern Australia and sub-Saharan Africa, the veld of South Africa, and the taigas of Asia.

4). Uses

Two major uses of grasslands are for agriculture and recreation.

In terms of agricultural use, grasslands are very useful as grazing grounds in pastoral farming. Extensive grazing of livestock on these lands can help in the efforts to tackle food insecurity, especially ins parts of the world where animal husbandry is a major means of subsistence.

Grasslands also accommodate parks and natural reserves, among other facilities that are useful to the human population.



A grassland is an ecosystem which has climatic and biological characteristics that particularly favor the growth and survival of grassy vegetation.

Types of grasslands are;

  1. Tropical Grassland
  2. Temperate Grassland
  3. Xeric Grassland
  4. Flooded Grassland
  5. Montane Grassland
  6. Tundra Grassland



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8). Singh, J. S.; Lauenroth, W. K.; Milchunas, D. G. (1983). “Geography of grassland ecosystems.” Progress in Physical Geography 7(1):46-80. Available at: (Accessed 30 June 2022).

9). Tóth, C. A. (2010). “Agriculture: Grazing Lands and Other Grasslands.” Available at: (Accessed 30 June 2022).

10). Zhang, G.; Biradar, C. M.; Xiao, X.; Dong, J.; Zhou, Y.; Qin, Y.; Zhang, Y.; Liu, F.; Ding, M.; Thomas, R. (2017). “Exacerbated grassland degradation and desertification in Central Asia during 2000‐2014.” Ecological Applications 28(2). Available at: (Accessed 30 June 2022).

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