Grasslands cover about 8 per cent of total land area and were once home to some of the largest wildlife assemblages on Earth (IUCN 2017c). They are now considered the most altered terrestrial ecosystem worldwide and the most endangered ecosystem on most continents, facing multiple pressures including land-use change, overgrazing, fragmentation, invasive species, suppression of natural fire, climate change and afforestation (IUCN 2017c).
Though grasslands contain high plant diversity, agricultural expansion is causing habitat destruction and fragmentation; for example, soybean production has replaced traditional livestock subsistence on natural pastures in much of the cerrado, a woodland savanna ecosystem, of South America (Aide et al. 2013). The Brazilian Cerrado holds roughly five per cent of global biodiversity and has lost close to 50 per cent of its original range (Brazil, Ministério de Meio Ambiente 2015). Rising temperatures are associated with woody encroachment and desertification across Africa (Midgley and Bond 2015; Engelbrecht and Engelbrecht 2016), South America and, to a lesser extent, Australia (Stevens et al. 2017).
It is estimated that 49 per cent of grassland ecosystems experienced degradation over a ten-year period (2000-2010), with nearly 5 per cent experiencing strong to extreme degradation (Gang et al. 2014), greatly decreasing the ability of these ecosystems to support biodiversity. Currently, 4.5 per cent of global grasslands have protected status (IUCN 2017c).
The strong relationship between grassland biodiversity and biomass (Cardinale et al. 2012), which is often used for animal fodder, agricultural products and raw textile materials for local populations, suggests that reductions in biodiversity will have negative implications for small-scale economic productivity and livelihoods.