In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Grassland Biome

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Online Databases
  • Historical Accounts
  • Foundational Works
  • Evolution of Grasses and Expansion of the Grassland Biome
  • Population Processes
  • Community Ecology of Grasslands
  • Ecosystem Processes
  • Belowground
  • Ecophysiology
  • Long-Term Studies
  • Current Topics

Ecology Grassland Biome
David J. Gibson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 March 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0032


Grassland is the most extensive terrestrial biome, occupying 41–56 ×; 106 km2, or 31–43 percent of Earth’s surface (see White, et al. 2000 and World Resources Institute 2000, both cited under Grassland Extent and Loss; World Resources Institute 2000 is also cited under Ecosystem Services). Grasslands have been heavily used throughout human history, especially as a food source and for livestock. As a result, 39 to 90 percent of grassland has been converted to cropland or urban area, with only 1 hectare of grassland protected for every 10 hectares that have been lost. Grasslands are biologically rich and diverse, being dominated by the fourth largest plant family, the Poaceae, with more than 7,500 species. Ecologically, grassland is fascinating and possibly has been the subject of more ecological studies than any other system. Some of the major ecological concepts have arisen from studies in grassland.

General Overviews

Many sources provide a general overview of the grassland biome, but most have a regional focus, and many of these, such as Savage 2004, although excellent, are written for a general audience rather than for researchers. Spedding 1971 is a basic overview of semi-natural grasslands, emphasizing production issues whereas Wilsey 2018 focuses more on natural grasslands. Although dated, Coupland 1979; Breymeyer and van Dyne 1980; and Risser, et al. 1981 are important overviews derived from the grasslands biome studies of the former International Biology Program. By contrast, Reynolds and Frame 2005 offers an applied overview of the grassland biome. Gibson 2009 and Wilsey 2018 are wide-ranging and up to date overviews.

  • Breymeyer, Alicja, and George M. van Dyne, eds. 1980. Grasslands, systems analysis, and man. IBP Synthesis Series 19. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    Fourteen contributions use ecosystem models to synthesize comprehensively and in great detail the data collected as part of the grassland studies theme of the International Biology Program. There are three main sections: Processes and Productivity, Systems Synthesis, and System Utilization. Accompanies Coupland 1979.

  • Coupland, Robert T., ed. 1979. Grassland ecosystems of the world: Analysis of grasslands and their uses. IBP Synthesis Series 18. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    An edited book of thirty-three contributions summarizing grassland ecosystem research conducted as part of the International Biology Program in natural and semi-natural temperate grasslands, tropical grasslands, arable grasslands, and croplands. Accompanies Breymeyer and van Dyne 1980.

  • Gibson, David J. 2009. Grasses and grassland ecology. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A detailed overview of grasses as plants, and the population, community, and ecosystem ecology of grasslands. A summary of world grasslands is provided, along with a final chapter on management and restoration.

  • Reynolds, Stephen G., and John Frame, eds. 2005. Grasslands: Developments, opportunities, perspectives. Enfield, NH: Science Publishers.

    A valuable compilation of twenty-one chapters covering a wide range of topics, with a generally applied focus on grassland productivity in the face of climate change and worldwide grassland degradation. Published for the Food and Agriculture Organization.

  • Risser, Paul G., E. C. Birney, H. D. Blocker, S. W. May, W. J. Parton, and J. A. Weins. 1981. The true prairie ecosystem. Stroudsburg, PA: Hutchinson Ross.

    Data-rich book that synthesizes work carried out from 1969 through 1974 at a network of sites in the True Prairie of the central northern United States as part of the International Biological Program. A wealth of information is presented on all components of the system. Dated, but still a critical resource.

  • Savage, Candace Sherk. 2004. Prairie: A natural history. Vancouver, BC: Greystone.

    Scientifically accurate but nontechnical guide to the North American Great Plains grasslands. Beautifully illustrated with photographs and drawings, this book is suitable for the general reader and anyone interested in grasslands.

  • Spedding, C. R. W. 1971. Grassland ecology. Oxford: Clarendon.

    A dated but useful overview that emphasizes production and utilization of European semi-natural grasslands.

  • Wilsey, Brian J. 2018. The biology of grasslands. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A brief but useful general account that provides a good overview of the grassland biome.

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