Grasslands are flat, open habitats covered mainly in grass, but also with other plants, wildflowers and a small number of trees and low shrubs. They receive less rainfall than forests and more than deserts. They contain many different kinds of grass. Grasslands contain the most species of plants in Australia.
Grasses are plants that are found in every continent except Antarctica. They can grow from the coast to the tops of mountains. They are successful plants because of the way in which they grow: from the base of the plant rather than from the top. This means if grass is burned or eaten or walked on it is able to grow again easily from the bottom. They have long, thin leaves so they don't lose moisture quickly, and their deep, thin roots help them to survive dry periods.
Australia's native grasslands are disappearing
When Captain Cook landed in Australia, a carpet of native grasses and colourful flowering plants covered much of south-eastern Australia, from south-eastern Queensland, eastern New South Wales, Victoria, and into South Australia and Tasmania.
However, since European settlement, most native grassland has been removed or changed by farming and other development. Vast areas of grassland were cleared for crops, and introduced grasses were planted on which introduced animals such as sheep and cattle grazed. Introduced plants mean plants that are native to other countries that are then planted in a new habitat.
Later, towns and cities spread, and grasslands became further reduced to make way for them.
Today less than 1% of the native grasslands survive and are now considered one of the most threatened Australian habitats.
An endangered habitat means animals as well as plants are threatened
Many of the grasslands plant and animal species have become extinct and many more are now rare or threatened with extinction.
As well as grasses such as wallaby grass and kangaroo grass, endangered grasslands plants include rare native orchids, lilies and pea plant species.A habitat such as grasslands includes animals that depend on the plants or physical environment. Much of the activity of grasslands occurs at or below ground level. Insects, small marsupials, reptiles and ground- dwelling birds live in grasslands.
Many of these are also rare, endangered because their habitat has been reduced or damaged.
One such rare animal is the Pygmy Blue-tongued Lizard, a beautiful little lizard that was presumed extinct in South Australia for many years until its rediscovery in 1992 near Burra, north of Adelaide. Pygmy Blue-tongued Lizards shelter and nest in spider holes in native grasslands.
The Striped Legless Lizard is another rare grasslands animal. Its grasslands habitat includes kangaroo grass and spear grass. Once fairly common in south-eastern Australia, is typically found where there are deep cracks in clay soil, with volcanic rocks scattered about to provide further hiding places. The cracks in the soil provide shelter from fire and predators, as well as being a place to lay eggs. The Striped Legless Lizard feeds only on invertebrates (animals without backbones).
The tiny Striped Legless Lizard - photo with permission from Parks, Conservation & Lands
Find out about Biodiversity
If you use any part of this in your work, list the source in your bibliography like this:
Sydenham, S. & Thomas, R Australian Grasslands [Online] www.kidcyber.com.au (2002)
Updated July 2009©kidcyber
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