Grasslands and savanna – both ecosystems appear to have stark similarities; however, they are not the same. Savannas are also called “tropical grasslands”, and other grasslands are simply “temperate grasslands”. Here we will explore the differences between savanna and grassland in detail.
The word ‘grassland’ itself gives away its characteristics. It describes a large landmass dominated by shorter vegetation – mostly grass, hence the name grassland. These landmasses do not receive heavy rainfall to support more extensive vegetation; however, they are not totally dry. They receive just enough rain to support the growth of grass and small shrubs, which prevent these landmasses from becoming a desert.
Savanna is also a type of grassland; however, it’s different from typical grasslands. The land here is covered with grass too; however, you will also find large trees scattered across the land – however, these trees are not close enough to form canopies, like in the forests. Besides, several other differences between savanna and grassland will be highlighted in this post. So, read along!
What is Savanna?
A savanna (Sabana in Spanish) is a type of grassland. More specifically, the savanna is a collective term for the vegetation zone between the tropical rainforest and the desert. Therefore, ‘savanna’ describes a tropical or subtropical vegetation type.
The alternating humid climate of the tropical areas where the savannas are primarily located is the primary reason for typical savanna vegetation. Savannas are characterized by a strong contrast between rainy and dry seasons. The climate of savanna falls between the arid (dry) trade wind zone and the tropical rainforest climate. Summers are typically warmer, with temperatures around 30 degrees Celsius.
The land is mainly covered with grass. Low precipitation prevents more significant vegetation; however, few scattered trees are common. Moreover, the soil is clay-rich and not particularly fertile.
What is a Grassland?
Grassland or temperate grasslands are huge swaths of land covered in grass but surprisingly no trees. The climate is drier than tropical grasslands or savanna; therefore, large trees don’t grow here.
Grassland experiences two distinct seasons with significant temperature variations. In summers, the temperature could soar above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, while it could plummet below zero in winter.
The soil here is dark brown and very fertile. Plants generally have long roots that reach deep underground and allow the vegetation to survive the hot summer season.
Savannas vs Grassland: What’s The Difference?
Grass, shrubs, and a few trees dominate both savanna and grassland. So, what is the difference between savanna and a grassland? At its most basic, it’s not the grass, but the proportion of trees that differentiates a savanna from a grassland.
Essentially, the savanna is a type of grassland mainly found in tropical regions. Savannas generally receive more rainfall and, therefore, support a few more trees than grasslands – although the tree population is not dense enough to form canopies.
The other type of grassland is generally categorized as temperate grassland. These grasslands experience seasonal changes throughout the year, resulting in hot summers and cold winters. Temperate grasslands receive just enough rainfall to support the growth of grasses, a few herbs, and not much else.
Main Differences Between Savanna and Grassland
Savannas are open grassy landscapes with few trees scattered throughout the land.
Grasslands are also dominated by grass; however, the climate does not support woody trees.
Ecologists subdivide savanna into three categories – wet, dry, and thornbush. The classification is based on the length of the dry season.
There are mainly two types of grasslands – steppes and prairies. The classification is primarily based on vegetation. Steppes grassland only supports short grass growth, while the grass is relatively taller in prairies.
Savanna covered the area across the north and south of the tropical rainforest around the equator. The bulk of the savannas are found in Africa, India, South America, and Australia.
Temperate grasslands also span several continents and lie between 25 to 60 degrees latitude in both hemispheres. Moreover, they have different names depending on the place – prairies in North America, steppe in Eurasia, downs in Australia and New Zealand, and the pampa in Argentina.
The savanna climate varies with seasons– the wet and dry seasons. The temperature does not vary significantly and remains between 25 to 30-degree celsius.
The climate in grasslands is characterized by hot summers and cold winters. There is an extreme variation in temperature across the season. In summer, the temperature can reach above 140 degrees Fahrenheit, while it could dip below zero in winter.
Savanna receives more rainfall than temperate grassland. The wet summer season typically lasts for 6 to 8 months. The rain in savanna averages around 20-40 inches per year.
Temperate grasslands are drier than their savanna counterparts. The average rainfall remains around 10 to 30 cm each year.
Savanna typically receives more rainfall; therefore, trees also grow here apart from grass. However, the tree covers are scattered and do not form canopies. Lemongrass, star grass, Rhodes grass, and Bermuda grass are common grass species, while jackalberry, acacia, and baobab are common trees here.
Tall trees and shrubs are rare; climate does not allow vegetation to develop woody structures, but the grass grows extensively here. Purple needlegrass, foxtail, wild oats, buffalo grass, and ryegrass, are common.
Soil is poor in nutrients and consists only of a thin layer of humus. Most of the nutrients are washed away by the rain.
Soil is relatively more nutrient-rich. The roots grow deep within the mollisol (soft, dark brown soil, rich in nutrients).
Savanna and grasslands are major biomes on our planet and cover an extensive area spanning several continents. While grass is the defining and a common characteristic, both savanna and grassland differ from each other. The former allows the growth of a few trees, while the latter comprises only grass. However, the savanna and grassland provide a home to diverse wildlife and ecosystems that support thousands of species in these primarily dry and warm landmasses.