Unrecognized Value of Weed | Mirage News


In this special issue of Science, one perspective and four reviews highlight the unrealized value of grasses – a highly diverse collection of plant species that provide critical ecosystem services and resources. Not only are they an important source of food for humans, grassland ecosystems make up almost 40% of the terrestrial biosphere and are home to a wide variety of animals and plants. However, grasslands are threatened by ongoing land-use conversion and climate change. “Grasses could offer solutions to many of our current societal challenges if only we fully recognize their diversity and value,” write Science Associate Editor Bianca Lopez and colleagues in the issue’s introduction.

These points are presented in perspective by Caroline Strömberg and A. Carla Staver. According to the authors, the history of humans as a species has been closely linked to grassy biomes for millions of years. Our earliest ancestors evolved in savannahs, and agricultural societies evolved in parallel with the domestication of grasses such as wheat and barley, which provided an important food source for the growing population, as they still do today. However, grassy biomes are predicted to be some of the ecosystems most affected by ongoing climate change and other human impacts. Here, Strömberg and Staver argue that as the importance of these critical regions is increasingly recognized, a better understanding of their past and present functions in informing policy and management is required.

Global grasslands have been significantly destroyed and degraded due to climate change and human activities. In a review, Elise Buisson and colleagues discuss grassland restoration and recent research suggesting that grassland restoration is slow or non-existent; Furthermore, interventions to accelerate or direct efficient recovery are not well understood, especially compared to what is known about forest ecosystem recovery. According to Buisson et al. Grasslands were believed to be relatively newly formed biomes and recover quickly from disturbances. The authors argue that grassland restoration must be viewed as a long-term process toward old growth endpoints. “As we enter the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration, advances in the science and practice of grassland restoration are critical if we are to combat the loss of old-growth grasslands and biodiversity decline,” Buisson et al. write.

A review by Yongfei Bai and M. Francesca Cotrufo highlights research showing how conserving grasslands and increasing their plant diversity can increase soil organic carbon storage. Grasslands store about a third of global terrestrial carbon stocks and can continue to act as an important soil carbon sink. According to the authors, improved grassland management can provide low-cost and/or high-carbon gain options for natural mitigation solutions.

In their paper, Paula McSteen and Elizabeth Kellogg highlight the genetic and evolutionary processes that led to the vast diversity of grasses we see worldwide today, which encompasses nearly 12,000 species, including several that directly and indirectly feed much of humanity .

Finally, a review by Richard Unsworth and colleagues focuses on seagrasses – a unique group of underwater flowering plants. Like terrestrial grasses, seagrasses form meadows in shallow seas worldwide and provide important resources for fisheries, coastal protection and climate protection. But these biomes are also endangered. Unsworth et al. provide an overview of the past and present distribution of seagrasses and the ecological role they play. In addition, the authors offer suggestions for conserving seagrass habitats to ensure their continued existence.

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