The world’s biggest desert is becoming a grassland
LONDON, UK – A vast desert in southern Africa has become the largest grassland in the world, with the continent’s most biodiverse grassland now covering more than three million square kilometres (1.7 million square miles).
Scientists from the University of Pretoria and University of Leeds say the grassland is the result of an intricate network of ancient lakes and rivers.
“It’s a big change, and we’re really proud of it,” said Dr Mark McArthur, the lead author of the study.
“For the first time, we’ve had an area that was more diverse and has been able to grow, and that’s a huge achievement.”
The study, published in the journal Science Advances, also found that the grasslands covered a wider area than the national grassbelt.
The grassland covered nearly 4 million square kilometers (2.2 million square acres), compared with just 1.5 million square km (620,000 square miles) in the national Grasslands Biome.
“If we could have grown grasslands on all the continents, we’d be all over the world,” Dr McArthur said.
“We need more grassland.”
The research team looked at the world’s largest grasslands using remote sensing techniques to map ancient lakes, rivers and ponds, which they found contained plants that could grow in areas that were too dry.
The researchers also looked at plant species that grew in grasslands in the southernmost part of the continent, which was also the place where many people live.
“You can see some of the big trees, which are the oldest in Africa, like palm trees, and some of them, like cotton, that have been in grassland for thousands of years,” Dr MacArthur said, adding that they are the best example of a plant that was once common in grasses.
The study found that grasslands were much more abundant in the south than in the north, with grasslands covering 1.7 times as much land as grasslands across the world.
“The whole world has some grasslands and a whole lot of deserts,” Dr McLay said.
“But it’s really important to realise that there’s more grasslands all around the world than there are deserts, and it’s probably the case that the number of grasslands worldwide is growing.”
Dr MacArthur and his team are now studying whether this grassland grassland has a future, and are looking for ways to bring it back to life.