Interview: Temperate grasslands, the most threatened biome in the world

20 August 2013 | Article

Bob Peart is the Project Coordinator of the Temperate Grasslands Conservation Initiative (TGCI).  The TGCI is a project of the World Commission on Protected Areas. 

What is the Temperate Grasslands Conservation Initiative?
The TGCI is an undertaking of the Grasslands Specialist Group with WCPA.  The TGCI was launched in June 2008 at a workshop in Hohhot, China where 35 grassland experts from 14 countries adopted the following mission:  To reverse the trend of biodiversity loss and degradation of the temperate grasslands biome by promoting both the designation and special management of representative protected areas, and the widespread use of sustainable management practices beyond protected area boundaries, with the goal of at least doubling the current level of protection by 2014.

Where are these grasslands?
Indigenous temperate grasslands occur globally on every continent except Antarctica.  They are found in about 20 countries, mainly in mid-latitudes where seasonal climates and soils favour the dominance of perennial grasses or graminoids.  Similar grasslands occur above the tree line in tropical or sub-tropical regions such as in the high Andes, Tibetan plateau, Iran and equatorial Africa. See map at this link.

Why are temperate grasslands so threatened?
Indigenous temperate grasslands are one of the world's great biomes, occupying ~8% of the earth's surface.  However after cradling human needs for centuries they are the most endangered, the most altered and yet the least protected biome on the planet.  Only 3.4% of the world's temperate grasslands are protected.

Once home to the some of the world's greatest assemblages of wildlife (ex: North American bison, Argentina's pampas deer and Asia's saiga antelope) the remaining intact indigenous grasslands now support only remnant populations. More than half of all temperate grasslands have been converted for crop production, forest plantations, urbanization and other land uses such as energy and mining development.  Much of the remainder is subject to intensive grazing.  These practices have led and are continuing to lead to habitat loss, declining biodiversity, desertification and fragmentation.  In addition, the specter of climate change is of ever-increasing concern.

Describe the conservation strategy that the TGCI is using to protect additional grasslands?
The TGCI has developed a global strategy and regional action plans.  Building on the global strategy of building awareness and improving communication among IUCN commissions and groups with a similar interest (such as WISP), our regional action plans focus on the Northern Great Plains of North America, the various temperate grassland of South America (pampas, puna, campos and paramo), the central Asian grasslands with a focus on the Kazakh Steppe and the transboundary Daurian Steppe/Amur River Basin of Eastern Mongolia, Russia and China.  

It is clear that the greatest potential for large-scale grasslands conservation is in these four regions; thus our focus and energy to get active conservation plans underway in each of these four regions. To be successful global awareness and support is also necessary.  We were therefore pleased when all the delegates at the recent IUCN World Conservation Congress supported the motion recognizing the plight of the temperate grasslands.

Contact Bob for more information or to be a member of TGCI.