An ode to meadows & grasslands

by Caroline Brown

A study released yesterday by the National Audubon Society found that the populations of many common birds have taken a nosedive, primarily due to habitat loss:

The dramatic declines are attributed to the loss of grasslands, healthy forests and wetlands, and other critical habitats from multiple environmental threats such as sprawl, energy development, and the spread of industrialized agriculture.

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Overall, agricultural and development pressures have driven grassland birds to some of the worst declines, followed closely by shrub, wetland and forest-dependent species.

I’m sad about the birds, but it’s also depressing to think that some day, children won’t know what a meadow looks like. Read the press release for yourself to learn about which birds are declining in numbers; there’s no need for me to restate the Society’s good work. I’ll spend my time eulogizing their habitats instead. First, an ode to grasslands and meadows.

Grasslands and meadows are areas of flat or gently rolling terrain dominated by grasses. Meadows have more biodiversity than grasslands, their grasses co-existing with many varieties of annual, biennial, and perennial plants. These habitats can contain native wildflowers such as black-eyed susan, purple coneflower, gloriosa daisy and California poppy; as well as grasses and sedges such as junegrass, prairie dropseed, sideoats grama and little bluestem.Black-eyed susans

A variety of animals, insects, and birds call grasslands and meadows home. For example, meadow mice, prairie dogs, moles and voles; hundreds of species of butterflies, bees, grasshoppers and other insects; and many birds, including the eastern meadowlark and the northern bobwhite (whose populations are down 72 percent and 82 percent respectively, according to the Audubon Society).eastern meadowlark

There are two types of grasslands and meadows–transitional or successional, and permanent. Transitional/successional meadows and grasslands are temporary, occurring when land former farmland returns to its original overgrown state, eventually being overtaken by woody plants. Permanent meadows or grasslands are habitats where the environmental conditions don’t allow woody plants to become established. Examples include coastal meadows where salt water limits woody plants, high altitude or alpine grasslands, and flooded or wet meadows and grasslands.

Humans love grasslands and meadow habitats (to death). They’ve always been attractive to humans because of the ease of cultivation for farmland and for grazing areas for livestock. Now as real estate prices have skyrocketed, grassland and meadows are viewed by developers as perfect places for suburban housing developments and office parks.

Photo credits: Meadow courtesy of Wikipedia; Little bluestem courtesy of EPA; Black-eyed susans courtesy of University of Oregon; Eastern meadowlark courtesy of National Audubon Society/Laura Erickson

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One Comment to “An ode to meadows & grasslands”

  1. Caroline:

    I live in a town with five acre zoning which somewhat protects the meadows and hayfields from development but, of course, not specifically as these are often taxed as house lots. We should all be concerned that there will not be enough open land for local food crops. I think each state should be required to have enough open space via meadows and grasslands held in reserve, to support its’ population. That is a pretty impossible task here in RI isn’t it! We depend way too much on food which travels great distances to reach us. I know we are lucky to have strawberries in February but there is a cost. I just read an interesting blog, ‘Dreams and Bones’ . The author is committed to eating one local meal…everything produced locally, once a month or was it week? I can’t remember but think how hard that would be for most of us! A worthy endeavor which brings attention to just where our food comes from.

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