Why Grasslands Are Worth Saving

Listen 49:23
Looking out over the grasslands of the Pantanal in Brazil

Looking out over the grasslands of the Pantanal in Brazil

There’s a lot to love about grasslands — the sound of the wind blowing through them, the way the colors change with the seasons, how the sun lights up the valley, and the flowers that bloom in the spring and summer.

But in many ways, we’ve taken these open spaces for granted, using them for our own purposes, from building houses to grazing livestock and planting crops. And in terms of conservation efforts, grasslands have been a bit neglected, compared to ecosystems like tropical rainforests.

But increasingly, scientists are paying more attention to grasslands as spaces that have to be protected. On this episode, we look at the role of grasslands as habitats, their importance to preserving biodiversity, and how they can help fight climate change.

We hear stories about how scientists came to appreciate the value of grasslands — and their attempts to protect what’s left, a spicy effort by researchers in Montana to fight a small but mighty opponent, a recent effort to reintroduce cheetahs into India’s grasslands, and how exactly you go about growing a lush green soccer field in a place where grass is definitely not native.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • For years, grasslands have been neglected by conservationists in favor of sexier ecosystems, like tropical rainforests. But increasingly, scientists are recognizing the importance of grasslands — and why we need to save them. Alan Yu reports.
  • We talk with Dean Pearson, a research ecologist at the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, Montana, who’s spent years working to restore native grasslands. He tells us about  a small but mighty foe thwarting his efforts: native deer mice.  Pearson explains the creative solution they came up with to prevent their tiny saboteurs from gobbling up all their seeds.
  • Anthropologist Krystal D’Costa talks about the history of how and why Americans became obsessed with our lawns.
  • How do you plant a soccer pitch in the middle of the desert? That’s the challenge facing FIFA ahead of the 2022 World Cup. Reporter Danielle Elliot investigates.  

Segments from this episode

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