Skip to Main Content

The Center for Native Grasslands Management

Title: Evolution and origin of the Central Grassland of North America: climate, fire, and mammalian grazers
Year: 2006
Author(s): Anderson, R. C.
Source Title: Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society
Source Type: Journal
pages: 626-647
Original Publication: http://  
Abstract: Grasslands are a widespread vegetation type that once comprised 42% of the plant cover on earthís surface. Features commonly shared among grasslands are climates with periodic droughts, landscapes that are level to gently rolling, high abundances of grazing animals, and frequent fires. World-wide expansion of grasslands occurred 8 to 6 MaBP and was associated with increasing abundance of grasses using the C4 photosynthetic pathway, a decline in woodlands, and coevolution of mammals adapted to grazing and open habitats. Beginning with Transeauís seminal paper on the prairie peninsula in 1935, North American ecologists debated the relative importance of fire and climate in determining the distribution of grasslands. In the 1960ís, a major research interest was the response of prairies to fire, especially the productivity of burned and unburned grasslands. Understanding mechanisms for increased productivity on burned prairies began in the late 1960ís and continued into the middle 1980ís. During the past 20 to 25 years, grassland research has focused on the coevolution of grasses and mammalian grazers and fire-grazing interactions that affect habitat heterogeneity and diversity across trophic levels. While this paper does not follow a chronological development of our understanding of grasslands, all of these major research interests are considered.