Grassland Habitat in Little Lake Valley

May 2, 2022

This time of the year many types of plants are flowering including trees, wildflowers, and grasses. For people with pollen sensitivity, it can be a difficult time especially since the spring winds are so efficient at carrying and spreading that pollen far and wide. Cattle grazing occurs on the grasslands throughout the mitigation lands. There are not many trees or shrubs in this habitat, and the dominant plants are mostly grasses, hence it is called a grassland. Many of the grassland areas here are also considered wet meadows because standing water from winter inundation can be present late into June and July. This inundation affects the type of grasses and other plants that grow in them.

Grasslands are important ecosystems for a variety of reasons. In 2010, the United States Department of Agriculture, along with the US Forest Service, began a campaign to educate the public about the ecosystem services provided by grasslands. They came up with a long list, seventeen ways in fact, that grasslands benefit ecosystems and provide value. Some examples include facilitating seed dispersal, providing important pollinator habitat, protecting soil from erosion, mitigating from drought and floods, maintaining biodiversity, providing wildlife habitat, and helping to cycle and move nutrients.

I learned recently that grasslands are some of the most species diverse ecosystems in the world. I was under the impression that tropical ecosystems were the most diverse, but grasslands also deserve attention for biodiversity. Tropical environments have more diverse plant species on a larger scale (50 square meters), whereas grasslands have more species diversity at a smaller scale (1 square meter). Just another lens to look through when we are discussing species diversity.

Grassland plant species provide habitats for many animals. One can see plenty of insects flying above or hiding in the grass: beautiful butterflies, beetles, grasshoppers, dragonflies, and of course, annoying ticks. All of these are important food for wildlife. Moreover, this is only the visible part of the insect world. Many insects live in the soil and undergrowth.

Grasslands also serve as important breeding and foraging habitat for larger animals. Here in the Little Lake Valley, mammals such as Tule Elk and Black-tailed deer benefit from the open fields as do the Coyotes and Grey foxes who eat gophers and meadow voles. Various birds such as Meadowlarks and Great Egrets, amphibians such as frogs and salamanders, and reptiles such as lizards and snakes are also supported by the variable landscape.

It is easy to perceive grasslands only in the dimension of grasses. The soil below the grass feeds the plants and hosts plenty of animals such as worms and snails, and various microorganisms. If you raise your eyes, there are insects and birds flying above in the air. All these dimensions form the ecosystem characteristics for grasslands, which are highly valued by humans. This is the habitat that most of our grains are grown in. However, in California and in many valleys around the world, we keep using this valuable agricultural land for building homes or other developments. This has contributed to the decline of grasslands and a diminished return on their benefits.

As I am walking through the grazing pastures of Little Lake Valley, I appreciate the diversity of our grassland species. Grasses, sedges, rushes, and wildflowers are all abundant this time of the year. Tule elk, Jackrabbits, and Grasshopper Sparrows are among just a few of the species of animals we see daily in these grassland habitats, letting us know that it is a healthy component of a thriving ecosystem. The many species of native grasses are beautiful to look at closely when they are blooming, adding shades of color and patterns to the landscape.