Blue question mark

How can we save the savanna ecosystem?
— Alexander R., Grade 5

Ecologist Elizabeth Johnson answers this question:

Hi Alexander,

Thank you for wanting to help protect the savanna ecosystem. Savannas are home to many unique plants and animals. Yet most people do not realize how important and threatened they are. 

Savannas are a type of grassland. They are flat, with scattered and widely spaced trees. Savannas are found throughout the world in both temperate and tropical regions. They can be wet or dry. Some of the world's largest tropical savannas are found in Australia, Africa, and South America.

In the United States, two of our most well known savannas are the longleaf pine savanna of the Southeast United States and the oak savannas of the Midwest. Both of these ecosystems are dry savannas. Periodic fires prevent many trees from growing and give savannas their open, grassy nature. They are home to many rare and unique herbs. These delicate plants thrive in the sandy and well-drained soil. And they get plenty of sunlight!

oak savanna

oak savanna

Perhaps the best-known savannas are the extensive plains of Africa. These tropical grasslands have both a wet season and a dry season. Many animals have adapted to living in this habitat. Cheetahs, lions, and vast herds of wildebeest and other antelopes migrate with the seasons to avoid drought.

African savana

African savana

Around the world, savannas are threatened by human actions like logging, development, conversion to agriculture, over-grazing by livestock, and introduction of non-native plant species. For example, in the drier parts of the African savanna, overgrazing by goats and cattle has removed most of the vegetation that holds the soil in place. This has created desert-like conditions. And most of the southeastern United State's longleaf pine savannas have been affected by logging.

How can you protect savanna ecosystems? Here are some ideas:

  • Respect and conserve grasslands where you live (many people do not think grassland habitats are as important as forests or wetlands).
  • Learn about savannas and teach others about them.
  • Volunteer for a savanna restoration project.
  • Support conservation organizations that protect savannas and the plants and animals that depend on them.

Explore More:

Elizabeth Johnson

Name:
Elizabeth Johnson

Job Title:
Metropolitan Biodiversity Program Manager, Center for Biodiversity & Conservation

Known For:
Elizabeth is an ecologist and an educator. She develops projects that help people understand and protect biodiversity.

Cool Fact:
Elizabeth and her colleague discovered a new species of centipede in Central Park, New York City. They named it Nannarrup hoffmani. It's 4/10 inch long, light yellow in color, and has 84 legs. It may be the world's smallest centipede!

Image Credits:
oak savanna, courtesy of BLM; African savana, CC0 Public Domain via maxpixel.net; Liz Johnson, courtesy of Liz Johnson.