Grasslands—more important for ecosystem services than you might think

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Extensively managed grasslands are recognized globally for their high biodiversity and their social and cultural values. However, their capacity to deliver multiple ecosystem services (ES) as parts of agricultural systems is surprisingly understudied compared to other production systems. We undertook a comprehensive overview of ES provided by natural and semi-natural grasslands, using southern Africa (SA) and northwest Europe as case studies, respectively. We show that these grasslands can supply additional non-agricultural services, such as water supply and flow regulation, carbon storage, erosion control, climate mitigation, pollination, and cultural ES. While demand for ecosystems services seems to balance supply in natural grasslands of SA, the smaller areas of semi-natural grasslands in Europe appear to not meet the demand for many services. We identified three bundles of related ES from grasslands: water ES including fodder production, cultural ES connected to livestock production, and population-based regulating services (e.g., pollination and biological control), which also linked to biodiversity. Greenhouse gas emission mitigation seemed unrelated to the three bundles. The similarities among the bundles in SA and northwestern Europe suggest that there are generalities in ES relations among natural and semi-natural grassland areas. We assessed trade-offs and synergies among services in relation to management practices and found that although some trade-offs are inevitable, appropriate management may create synergies and avoid trade-offs among many services. We argue that ecosystem service and food security research and policy should give higher priority to how grasslands can be managed for fodder and meat production alongside other ES. By integrating grasslands into agricultural production systems and land-use decisions locally and regionally, their potential to contribute to functional landscapes and to food security and sustainable livelihoods can be greatly enhanced.


  • J. Bengtsson
  • J. M. Bullock
  • B. Egoh
  • C. Everson
  • T. Everson
  • T. O'Connor
  • P. J. O'Farrell
  • H. G. Smith
  • R. Lindborg
External organisations
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
  • Stellenbosch University
  • Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Wallingford
  • University of California, Irvine
  • University of KwaZulu-Natal
  • South African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON)
  • University of Cape Town
  • Stockholm University
  • Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use


  • biodiversity, Europe, food security and agricultural production systems, grassland biome, semi-natural grasslands, South Africa
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02582
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch