European grasslands as diverse as tropical rain forests

New evidence that our wilderness is a semi-open landscape

Fr. 16 – 03 – 2012

What is the most species-rich place on earth, the tropical rainforests of Southern America? An international study, published recently in the Journal of Vegetation Science, questions this. The European grasslands are perhaps just as divers.

The team of researchers studied plant species diversity at different scales from 1 mm2 up to 1 hectare. On a larger scale of over 50 m2, the tropical rainforests are still the most diverse, but on smaller scales, suddenly it appears that the grazed and mown grasslands of central and eastern Europe are the most species-rich areas.

But where does this wealth come from? These plant species cannot have evolved in closed forests. Old theories that our climax vegetation is a close forest can be further questioned. Instead it is more likely that our primeval landscapes consisted of semi open habitats, full of large herbivores to maintain them. Not only species like auroch and wild horse, but also deer, wild ass, ibex, bison, moufflon and saiga. Later these species were replaced by human livestock with their shepherds. But new economic situations threatens their existence. Is this the right time for the return of all our wild animals?