Can Grasslands, The Ecosystem Underdog, Play an Underground Role in Climate Solutions?

Globally, grasslands are one of the most converted and least protected ecosystems. The rich soil of Earth’s grasslands plays an important role in feeding the world and because of this much of our grassland has been converted to row-crop agriculture. Loss of grasslands is a big problem for two reasons:

  • The continual conversion of native grassland puts all grassland dependent species at risk
  • The rich soil releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere (literally) when converted

The ability of ecosystems to store carbon is one of the most promising natural solutions to mitigating the impacts of climate change. Strategies that avoid conversion of ecosystems take advantage of this natural ability to offset carbon emissions. Forests have long been recognized for their carbon storage potential. But what about grasslands?

Despite the lack of trees, grasslands store a substantial amount of carbon. Imagine if the trees in a forest grew into the soil instead of towards the sun. This is what the underground world of a grassland does. Grasslands are an underground forest of carbon. Native prairie plants have long, dense root systems that store carbon themselves as well as cycle carbon between the above ground vegetation and the soil for storage.

The good news is protecting grasslands keeps that carbon in the ground and provides numerous other benefits to native plants, wildlife and water quality.

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