Why flowering meadows are better than lawns

Groomed, grassy fields can be good for certain uses, like sports or picnics. But for broader “ecosystem services” — things like plant pollination, disease control, soil quality and climate regulation — look to meadows.

Meadows are more than just unmowed lawns, though. They are rich, diverse ecosystems, bustling with a wide range of wildlife. And as a new study illustrates, meadows and other natural grassland habitats can be surprisingly beneficial to humans — if we let their biodiversity reach full bloom.

Published in the journal Nature, the new paper was conducted by 60 researchers from nearly three dozen universities. They studied 150 grasslands, examining how species richness and abundance relates to 14 specific ecosystem services. Biodiversity is key, but their research suggests the secret to a great grassland is a bit more complex. And given what’s at stake, we’d be wise to pay attention.

Healthy grasslands host lots of species at various levels of the food chain, also known as “trophic levels.” Humans are eroding biodiversity in many of these groups, often by developing grasslands for intensive agriculture.

“Many different groups are important for providing essential ecosystem services. In order for nature to continue ‘working’ reliably for us, we therefore need to protect biodiversity at all levels in the food chain, including in often overlooked groups such as microbes or insects.”

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