What features of grasses would need to exist in a plant for the plant to fill the same niche as grasses in a grassland?

  • $\begingroup$ Last time I checked grass was a plant. I don't understand your question. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jan 2, 2021 at 13:49
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The OP is asking, in a scenario where grass itself does not exist, what must the properties of the replacement plant be, to fulfill the same ecological roles. For example, in the right climate, Kudzu is a very good "grass replacement" plant. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Jan 2, 2021 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ Lack of branches maybe... I guess hee hee $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Jan 2, 2021 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ Grasses are a latecomer in the vegetable kingdom. The first grasses appeared towards the end of the Cretaceous, and grasslands did not become widespread until the Late Miocene epoch, well into the Neogene era. Before that, there were only forests and shrublands. As so, the answer is trivially simple: if there were no grasses, grasslands would revert to being forests or shrublands, as they had been for hundreds of millions of years before the rise of grasses. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 2, 2021 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP This question is asking what a plant needs to form a 'grassland', not what would happen without grasses $\endgroup$ Jan 2, 2021 at 17:03

1 Answer 1

  • Rapid growth and spreading.

  • Willing to grow in marginal and poor soils.

  • Ability to survive grazing, including really severe grazing.

  • Ability to survive being stepped on by absolutely everything in sight.

  • Strong root system for stabilizing soil.

  • Ability to either survive fire, or rapidly reseed and regrow after a fire.

  • If in a region that experiences frost and snow, it should be able to at least regrow rapidly after a frost, better survive and thrive even after being frozen solid.

  • Capable of letting the upper surface "die", to provide reduced water needs and shade/thermal protection in event of drought/water shortage.

  • Ideally, should be significantly nutritious to eat, as this invites grazers to trim old growth and fertilize and spread seeds.

  • Should not grow tall enough for a 'grass' fire to become a 'forest' fire.

  • $\begingroup$ My understanding is that grasses came to dominate because ungulates evolved a new enzyme allowing them to eat woody stems, and grasses grow back from the base, not the bud. Animals ate the brush, and the brush couldn't recover. Grasses could. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Jan 3, 2021 at 2:35
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus Yep. That's the third point in here. Ability to survive being eaten (because he important bits are down where they are safe). With a root system that does most of the growing effort, does not die of grazing or trampling, and usually survives frost and fire, you have a plant that completely dominates its niche. Hence, the formation of grasslands. $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Jan 3, 2021 at 6:31

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