The Importance of Grasslands in Providing Ecosystem Services

Opportunities for poverty alleviation

Authored by: Benis N. Egoh , Janne Bengtsson , Regina Lindborg , James M. Bullock , Adam P. Dixon , Mathieu Rouget

Routledge Handbook of Ecosystem Services

Print publication date:  January  2016
Online publication date:  January  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138025080
eBook ISBN: 9781315775302
Adobe ISBN:


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The importance of ecosystems in providing ecosystem services and supporting human well-being has been largely recognised by the scientific community and policymakers, but grasslands have been mostly neglected by these communities. The focus has primarily been on ecosystems like forests due to their importance in providing ecosystem services such as carbon storage and the importance of carbon storage in mitigating threats from climate change (Canadell and Raupach, 2008). However, grasslands are one of the most widespread ecosystems in the world, covering about 26% of the terrestrial area (Boval and Dixon, 2012). Although their importance is not recognised as much as that of the forest, grasslands are important providers of ecosystem services to humans and society. Indeed, grasslands are also large carbon sinks and, according to Minahi et al. (1993), almost as important as forests in the recycling of greenhouse gases. Permanent grasslands store large amounts of carbon in the soil (Lal, 2004; Soussana et al., 2010; Bullock et al. 2011; Lemaire et al. 2011), much more than agricultural soils, and as much as forest soils (i.e. if trees are not included) (Farley et al. 2013). However, grasslands are better known around the world for their provision of ecosystem services related to grazing, such as fodder provision for the delivery of meat and dairy (Boval and Dixon, 2012). This service plays a key role not only in developing (e.g. most southern African countries and Mexico) countries, where poverty is prominent and small-scale farmers depend on the wider landscape for their livelihoods, but also in developed countries such as the USA and Australia (Franzluebbers and Steiner, 2016, and MacLeod and McIvor, 2016).

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