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On a largely uninhabited world with geology, climate, biome etc very similar to prehistoric Earth, I have some scenes taking place in a temperate grassland. It's at moderately high altitude, and I had vaguely pegged it as 'Alpine meadow'.

It is now dawning on me that 'Alpine meadow' is a synonym of 'Alpine tundra' - i.e. only occurs at such high altitude that it is basically freezing all year round. And other than that, I have not been able to find any evidence that grassland ever occurs without human intervention in temperate regions, except where it is dry enough to be semi-desert. Other than that, it is looking like all fertile/habitable temperate land, without exception, is always covered in trees.

What's the least unrealistic way to get some grassland in a temperate zone, without human intervention, and without compromising the habitability of the area? i.e. it's got to be reasonably described as 'lush meadow' not 'desolate wasteland'.

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    $\begingroup$ I think most of the American midwest begs to differ. Prairies were around long before large-scale human intervention. Yes, there are also a lot of trees, but there was quite a bit of grass. As to methods: grazing and fire. Enormous herds of bovines that haven't been slaughtered to near-extinction by humans will help. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Apr 14 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ Plenty of mountain meadows exist at elevations much less than Alpine tundra. The Sierra Nevada (for one instance) is full of them. Meadows are part of a natural ecologic succession: a lake, pond, or other low area becomes filled with sediment, but has too much groundwater for most trees to survive. See for instance the Sierra Valley and surrounding areas. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 14 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ Also, I think you need to clarify what you're looking for. Do you want meadows (as in your title), which are open areas of comparatively small size in an otherwise forested area, or do you want an extensive grassland such a prairie or savanna? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 16 at 0:52
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf Good question! Somewhere in between, really; I need size on the order of kilometers, whereas one tends to think of a meadow as on the order of a hundred meters, and a prairie as hundreds of kilometers. $\endgroup$ – rwallace Apr 16 at 7:04
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    $\begingroup$ @rwallace: Then the Sierra Valley would work just fine for you. Or some of the other large Sierra Nevada meadows, such as Kennedy Meadows. Tuolumme Meadows is perhaps a bit high, but it is certainly not freezing all year around. Then there are the lower elevation "oasis" meadows at the base of the east slope of the Sierra. FTM, prior to it being turned into large farms, most of California's Central Valley was also a meadow-like environment. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 17 at 17:02
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Would the Highveld of South Africa suit your purposes?

It has an altitude between 1500 and 2100 meters and its latitude is 27 °S.

It is home to some of the country's most important commercial farming areas, as well as its largest concentration of metropolitan centres

Naturally occurring vegetation in the Highveld consists of different types of well-established grassland depending on the varying amounts of rainfall across the area: subtropical and temperate grassland, with true savannah not dominating the ecosystem until more tropical latitudes. The major grass species are Hyparrhenia hirta and Sporobolus pyramidalis and among these are other grasses and herbs. Trees and shrubs never thrived due to the frequent fires that occurred in the dry season and the heavy grazing (once by wild animals and now by livestock).

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    $\begingroup$ Small p.s. You should remove/disregard 2/3rds of the trees visible in that image. Invader Eucalyptus from Australia is a very recent addition to this biome. Maybe add some oddcasional Aloe, Protea and some more Acacia thorntrees,(these have been removed by human activity, notably cattle grazing), especially on the rocky small hills of the region. $\endgroup$ – PcMan Apr 14 at 10:47
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    $\begingroup$ Totally agree. No lush grassland is long term stable without somehow getting rid of shrubs/trees. Any grassland eventually becomes forrest if wet enough or steppes/prairie/savannah if too arid. Grazing by domestic or wild animals, periodic fires and regular flooding are the prime candidates for that. (And flooding only works if the local trees/shrubs don’t like wet feet. $\endgroup$ – Tonny Apr 14 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ And yes. "Lush" has never described the Highveld. $\endgroup$ – PcMan Apr 14 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't that fall into the category of 'dry enough to be semidesert'? $\endgroup$ – rwallace Apr 14 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ Grazing might be a candidate; what sort of density of animals do you need for that to work? Can sheep or goats do it? $\endgroup$ – rwallace Apr 14 at 10:52
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Fire Hawks and Big Grazers

A couple species of hawk native to Australia intentionally spreads fires as a way to flush out game. The things literally fly around dropping flaming sticks from lightning strikes/other fires into new areas, and would be a great way to encourage grass growth.

Combine that with some sort of large grazer which feeds on grasses and shrubs and has a habit of uprooting any trees that happen to grow in the area (elephants are known to do this. They knock the tree over to get to the tasty leaves on top.) and you could have a lush grassland that is fairly stable and unlikely to revert to forest.

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