Conserving the natural grasslands of South America

The Bobolink migrates long distances between North and South America © Brian E. Small/AGAMI(Miguel Parrilla; 30 March 2017)

As agriculture, forestry, roads and urbanization brought economic development to the vast grasslands of South America, the area of this important ecosystem was reduced by half. Luckily, ranchers and conservationists are joining forces to save these vital lands.

In the Southern Cone of the American continent, there is an area of natural grasslands unique in the world, home to a countless number of species. In the past, these grasslands occupied an area of 100 million hectares, ranging from Rio Grande do Sul, Argentina to southern Paraguay and Uruguay.

Today, the remaining 50 million hectares of natural grasslands are home to 540 recorded wild bird species, 12 of which are globally threatened, such as the Blue-eyed Ground-dove Columbina cyanopis (Critically Endangered), the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest Oxypogon cyanolaemus (Critically Endangered) or the Santa Marta Wren Troglodytes monticola (Critically Endangered). Among them are species of migratory birds that make long migrations annually, linking the North American prairies with the pampas of South America.

But natural pastures not only provide food and shelter for wildlife. When well managed and conserved, they provide a series of benefits to society. These benefits are known as “ecosystem services”, among which we highlight the following:

  • Capturing and storing carbon, reducing the presence of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere which are responsible for climate change;
  • Filtering water and slowly recharging freshwater aquifers, making water available for human consumption or for irrigation;
  • Maintaining populations of predators and pest controllers from agriculture, reducing the use of polluting chemicals;
  • Preserving an ancestral landscape, associated with the culture and traditions of the region;
  • Providing resistance to extreme climatic events like droughts and floods, giving greater stability to livestock production.

The Grasslands Alliance was established with BirdLife’s support in order to conserve these vital ecosystems. Proof of this was the organization of the Second Natural Grassland Tour at the end of 2016, carried out by the Grassland Alliance with the financial support of the US Forest Service. The important meeting put producers, experts and conservationists from different backgrounds in the same room–an opportunity to exchange ideas and best practices.

“The objective of the tour was to know in depth the activities carried out in the region to conserve grasslands and also to involve representatives from other countries in the Americas with a view to increasing cooperation. In fact, we’re hoping to create a hemispheric alliance that includes every South American country”, said Dr. Nicolás Marchand, Grasslands Alliance Regional Coordinator.

“The contributions of the four member countries of the Grassland Alliance (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay) have shown the benefit of conserving grasslands to livestock farmers, but also to wildlife.

Read more