The world’s grassland is the fifth-largest terrestrial area on the planet, and a key component of the biosphere.
In Africa, it is home to the world’s largest rainforest.
However, the grasslands of West Africa and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa have also seen the rapid decline of their vegetation, leading to an estimated 3.6 million acres (1.8 million hectares) of degraded vegetation being lost each year.
“A major reason for this degradation is the loss of the grasses themselves, which have been cut down in such a manner that they have disappeared from the landscape and have been replaced by scrub, herbaceous plantings,” said the report, which was prepared for the United Nations Environment Programme and published by the IUCN Red List.
The report says this process has led to the rapid loss of vegetation due to habitat loss, pollution, over-harvesting and climate change.
“The process of clearing grasslands for agricultural purposes is one of the most devastating processes in the history of grasslands,” said David MacKenzie, an ecologist at University College London, who co-authored the report with Dr Andrew Higgs.
“We are seeing more and more species disappearing from the grassland and the loss is not being brought under control by any other means,” he told ABC News.
“In the case of Africa, we are seeing that the process of removing vegetation for farming is happening much more rapidly than we have seen in the past.”
In some parts of West African countries, including Mali and Niger, there is evidence that grasslands have been destroyed.
“There is a growing trend to remove grasses that are already there,” Dr MacKettle said.
“If you remove all the grass in West Africa, the loss would be much greater than the loss in other parts.”
Dr MacKetes study found that the grass was being replaced by herbaceous plants.
“For the past three decades, we have been seeing a gradual reduction in the amount of grass in the landscape, as the population has decreased,” Dr Higgs said.
Dr MacKeese said there was evidence to suggest the rate of loss was increasing.
“It is not just that it has become a loss of grasses, it has also become a decline of species that we normally see in the vegetation,” he said.
It’s a worrying trendDr Higgs says the study found the rate at which grasslands were being lost in West African regions was increasing, and could be increasing in other areas.
“When the population in West Africans started to increase, there was a trend towards greater species loss and it is increasing now,” Dr Kewe said.