Grasslands – The need and importance of grasslands, particularly the Pampas Essay

                            A brief study on the state of ecosystem in Pampas                          Grasslands biomes, seen around the world are large areas occupied by grasses, flowers and herbs. These areas are more dominated by grass than by shrubs and trees, inhabited predominantly by grazing mammals and ground-nesting birds. Grasslands are semi-arid areas, which receive about 10 to 30 inches of rain each year. They are characterized predominantly by the rainfall, which prevent the areas from becoming a forest due to heavy rains or a desert due to lesser rains.

 Grasslands are called as plains or prairies in North America, which are mostly humid and thickly covered by tall grass. They are referred to as steppes in Eurasia, which have grass of shorter length than that in prairies. Steppe grassland has lesser moisture and compatible vegetation. In Africa these are savannas identified by warm, dry climate and droughts, with plant life well adapted to this hot, dry conditions.Tropical savanna, which is a form of savanna, is ecologically diverse supporting many species of flora and fauna. The grasslands of South America are called as pampas, which have temperate climate and a fertile soil.

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Grasslands provide us with invaluable environmental services. Grasslands were studied to absorb about 60 kgs of carbon annually per hectare and thereby reduce global warming by reducing accumulation of greenhouse gasses (1997 Report). Today only 0.7% of the world’s grasslands and about 0.3% of the South American grasslands are protected.

Mankind’s two most important activities namely agriculture and forest industry depend historically on grasslands, from which a large number of products are directly or indirectly generated.                      The flat, fertile plains of the Pampas stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Andes Mountains, occupying an area of about 777 thousand kilometers. The Pampas are mainly in central Argentina, gradually extending into Uruguay and the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul., located between 34° and 30° south latitude, and between 57° and 63° west latitude. It should be noted here that the Argentinean Pampas are the original home to the South American cowboy ‘Gaucho’. Pampas are recognized as one of the most endangered habitats on the face of the earth.

                      According to Aníbal Parera, coordinator of an alliance for the conservation of the grasslands and pampas, society view grasslands as the place were grains and meat is aplenty. These are therefore more prone to being transformed into pastures or farmlands than wetlands or forests. It has been estimated that atleast 1.3 million ha lose about 20 tons per ha of soil every year in the Pampas. Apart from the loss of nutrients, the use of agrochemicals and fertilizers have many negative impacts on the biodiversity in the longer run (Parks). It has also been learnt that in the last few decades, grassland areas of pampas have been reducing at the rate of about one to ten percent a year. Almost none of the original grasslands exist in the now shrinking pampas ecosystem.

The original flora that was once abundant can only be seen in certain areas now, with major areas of land now under cultivation or covered with new and different vegetation.                    Farming and raising of domestic livestock in the Pampas has had a very serious impact on these grasslands. The destructive changes introduced by man include the irreversible damage from building and flooding. Activities like cultivation, irrigation and overgrazing also brought in noticeable changes to the ecosystem. The ‘ocean of grass’ that it once was has now been reduced to a small part of what it was. Due to frequent fires in the pampas, there are few trees here, as they perish in the fires.

The Pampas support a wide range of flora and fauna, many of which are rare or unique and exclusive to this grassland. It is estimated that about fifteen mammal species, twenty bird species and fifteen plant species in the Pampas are on the verge of extinction.                   Grasslands can be described as the most valuable ecosystem for human activity and unfortunately, its protection has been universally carried out at a very low level. Grasslands have long been in waiting to be recognized as habitats worthy of protection. The conservation and protection initiatives at several levels highlight the importance it is now being accorded. Federal authorities have made conservation of the Pampas a high priority and it has been included in a major project aimed at protecting certain identified areas in the country.

The initiatives taken for protection include a diverse range of activity from buying land for preservation, convert land from its present use to conservation state and also trying to restore lands to its near natural condition. Integrated pest management, implementing cattle and crop rotation and avoidance of tillage cropping can contribute desired results. However, the desired results of conservation is taking too long to be achieved despite excellent intentions and planning. Projects however implemented are at the mercy of clear political and financial support, and also rests on the cooperation between the federal and provincial agencies. The existence of the Pampas in the longer run rests on public education on the importance of the grasslands.                                                   BIBLIOGRAPHY1997 Report; coordinated by Robert Costanza; co-founder of the International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE)Parks; Parks; Published by World Commission on Protected areas (WCPA) Vol. 8 No. 3.

Oct. 1998

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