In this month’s statement, I decided to focus my efforts on something that I think probably doesn’t get enough exposure. We hear about the struggles to save the savannah, but why is the savannah important?
I’m going to answer these questions and more, but first here’s a quick summary answer to get us started before delving in deeper…
Why is Savannah Important? The Savannah is a warm biome area of grassland and sparse trees, a finely balanced eco-system that houses a multitude of plants and animals. Savannahs are in danger predominantly from over-farming, hunting, and the effects of global warming.
Before we dive in deeper, let’s understand more about what the Savannah is, and what you would expect to find.
What is Savannah?
In a nutshell, any area referred to as a savannah can be described as being similar to green grassland, with trees, but fewer than that of a wood or forest area.
Characterized by trees that are sufficiently wide enough apart so that the canopy does not close.
The open canopy passes enough light to reach the ground to maintain an unbroken herbaceous soil – consisting mainly of grass.
However, in some savannas, tree density is higher and trees are more abundantly spaced as compared to forests.
They’re associated with many types of biomes and mostly remain in a transitional zone between forest and desert or grassland.
Savannah occupies nearly 20% of the Earth’s land area. The main areas where savannas are located are Africa, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Asia, Madagascar, South America, and Australia.
How Savannahs were formed?
Savannas first emerged nearly 66 million years ago During the Cenozoic Era as rainfall gradually decreased in the edges of the tropics – particularly over the last 25 million years.
Grasses, the dominant savannah vegetation, arose around 50 million years ago, although some savannah grass-like plants may have existed earlier.
The South American fossil records show well-developed vegetation, rich in grass and thought to be similar to modern savannah, to have existed about 20 million years ago in the early Miocene period.
During this time, the climate around the world became cooler. Lower ocean surface temperatures decreased water evaporation, slowing down the entire hydrological cycle, with less cloud formation and precipitation.
The vegetation of the mid-latitude areas, lying between the wet equatorial zones and the humid cool temperate zones, was greatly affected.
Increase in Savannah biomes
Savannas have become much more common in temperate regions, during long, dry periods …mainly at the expense of forests – contemporary to the ice ages, or glacial cycles, of the Pleistocene Epoch (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago).
In most types of savannah, you won’t see an abundance of trees or other tall plants that dominate other biomes.
And in the slightly more mild ‘winter months’, when most plants die or lose their leaves, you may see almost nothing.
However, you would find something peculiar about the weather. Much of the year, it’s pretty warm. In fact, savannas are more characterized by their warm climates than by their vegetation.
Savannas are a transitional biome, they are neither a forest nor a desert, they are somewhere in between.
This environment is home to many different species of plants and animals around the world and is home to the largest land mammal in the world, the African elephant.
If you’ve ever watched a TV show about African wildlife, you’re probably more familiar with the savannah than you think. More than 40 species of mammals and big cats find a home in the African savannah.
Savannas can be divided into three categories – wet, dry, and thorn bush – largely depending on the length of the dry season.
In wet savannas, the dry season lasts three to five months and in dry savannas, it lasts four to six months, and in thornbush savannas, it is longer.
Other classifications have also been proposed.
Despite their distinctions, all savannas share a range of distinguishing structural and functional characteristics.
Generally, they’re classified as vegetation types of tropical or subtropical nature.
They are seen as an area with continuous grass cover …interrupted by patches of trees and shrubs and found in areas where bushfires are common and where main growth patterns are closely associated with changing wet and dry seasons.
Savannas can be viewed as a geological and environmental ‘transition zone’ between the rainforests of the equatorial regions and the deserts of the northern and southern latitudes.
In general, savannas develop 8° to 20° from the equator in tropical regions.
Conditions are mild to hot in all seasons, but heavy rainfall occurs for just a few months per year – about October to March in the Southern Hemisphere and April to September in the Northern Hemisphere.
Average annual precipitation is usually between 80 and 150 cm (31 and 59 inches), although it may be as low as 50 cm in some central continental locations.
The dry season is usually longer than the rainy season but varies greatly from 2 to 11 months. monthly temperatures usually remain between 10 and 20 °C (50 to 68 °F) in the dry season and between 20 and 30 °C (68 and 86 °F) in the wet season.
So, let me now move on to the dangers that our Savannah’s face…
Is the Savannah in danger?
Overgrazing and farming have indeed damaged a lot of the savannah.
When overgrazing happens, the grass does not grow back and turns those areas of the savannah into a desert.
In Africa, the Sahara Desert is spreading in the savannah at a pace of 30 miles per year.
Importance of the Savannah
Yes, all Savannah areas are important. Here’s an outline of the main reasons why we need to preserve our Savannahs…
Preserving and providing shelter for migratory birds
Savannas provide habitat for more than 100 bird species. Brown thrashers, blue-winged teals, yellow warblers, and bluebirds make vibrant additions to the savannah landscape.
Preserving and providing habitat for threatened and endangered species
Wisconsin used to have more than 4.1 million acres of savannah.
There are now fewer than 10,000 acres of Savannah in decent condition. As a result, several species found within the savannah are becoming increasingly scarce. Partly responsible is the illegal activities of hunting numerous important primary species to extinction.
The famous prairie flower …known for its scent, Blanding’s turtle, and the critically endangered blue butterfly are all examples of rare species requiring savannah habitat.
Encourage natural diversity and refuge for plants and animals
Savannas support a large variety of animals belonging to different groups. White-tailed deer, turkeys, wild lupine, cloak butterflies, and the eastern hognose snake all prefer their homes in savannah habitats.
Without Savannahs, many important species would become endangered.
Fires in the Savannah are a significant aspect
During the dry season, fires are common, but these fires aid in clearing old and dead shrubs, making way for new growth.
Most plants survive these blazes because they have extensive root systems that allow them to grow back quickly after a fire.
The trees have a dense bark that helps them thrive. Animals will usually run to avoid the flames. Some of the animals burrow deep into the earth to survive.
So how can we help save our savannahs?
There are numerous organizations and charities working to preserve and save our Savannah biomes. One of the best ways you can assist this ongoing project is to provide a donation, that’s where the Rutakirwa Foundation can help.
I’m Tonny Rutakirwa, and my foundation is now working towards a better future for our planet. Donations make a huge difference to our work.
With your help, we can assist those organizations in trying to understand the causes and effects through studies and with science.
The Rutakirwa Foundation was set up with this exact approach in mind.
I’m using my platform to lend my voice to the need for change. So here’s a donation link for those who can join me in the cause and donate to our supported causes!
You probably see Savannahs a lot on the TV, but you may not know of the real struggles that Savannah habitats face. I hope this has provided some insight.
Till next month,
I remain truly yours,