What are native grasslands?

Volcanic activity across Western Victoria created rich soils which supported a unique ecosystem. It is now under threat. Photo:

The geologically recent volcanic activity across western Victoria created a landscape with rich, but often shallow, soils, that supported a unique grassland ecosystem.

Climate, soil, herbivory and fire history, among other factors, have combined to maintain tussock grasses, such as kangaroo grass, as a dominant species, with small herbs including diverse orchids, daisies and lilies growing in the spaces between tussocks and few or no trees over large areas.

Many now endangered species were common in these grasslands, including the striped legless lizard, growling grass frog, golden sun moth, spiny rice-flower and a number of rare orchids.

Like many rich grassy ecosystems in Australia, including open grassy woodlands, the grasslands of the Victorian volcanic plain were preferentially selected for stock grazing in the illegal 1835 land grab by pastoralists that marked the beginning of European Victoria.

Later, ploughing for crops and introduced pasture grasses compounded the damage from hard-hooved stock. One hundred and eighty years later, only about 1% of the original grassland ecosystem remains in anything like its original condition. In many areas it persists only in narrow roadside reserves. Some of the best larger remnants are on the western edge of Melbourne.

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