Despite the grassy ground layer being the defining element of grassy biomes, ground layer data are not always collected even though its constituent grasses and forbs drive the processes central to shaping the dynamics of these ecosystems. Among grassy biomes, there is generally a lack of consistency in data collections that due to the nature of herbaceous plants makes it difficult to compare richness, functional and taxonomic composition among sites of varied size and organisation. Our approach is to motivate standardised data to foster and facilitate new data collections in grassy biomes to answer questions about community assembly related to environmental change.
Protocol for sampling community composition can be accessed here.
Trait-based approaches in ecology allow us to understand environmental drivers that shape characteristics and functions of plant communities, describe and classify ecosystems, and anticipate the potential response of ecosystems to global change. In savannas and grasslands where disturbances have shaped and maintained vegetation dynamics throughout evolutionary history, many plant traits and life history strategies are associated with surviving regimes of fire, herbivory, seasonal flooding and drought (Bond and Midegley, 2001; Bond, 2005; Bond, 2019). To understand disturbance dynamics, the importance of standardised data and suitable methods for sampling a spectrum of plant functional traits and life forms in grassy biomes are highlighted in the handbook by Wigley et al. (2020).
Phylogeny and taxonomy
We aim to broaden future opportunities for interdisciplinary understandings through a consistent compilation of genetic, taxonomic, trait, and ecological data types. The evolutionary history of herbaceous plants remains poorly documented compared to woody flora, and the documentation of their diversity through the maintenance and updating of taxonomic classifications remains an extensive and active area of research. Grasses are a good example of a complex herbaceous group, where their classification is continuously updated as our understanding evolves (Soreng et al., 2000; Soreng et al., 2017) to reflect the continuously improving reconstructions of evolutionary history (Saaerela et al., 2018). The evolution of herbaceous plants has given rise to their genetic and morphological diversity, and has thus directly shaped the ecological function of individuals, populations, species, genera, and families of plants. GGG takes an integrative approach to studying the genetic, morphological, and taxonomic diversity of the plants within grassy ecosystems aiming to build interconnected DNA sequence and plant diversity datasets, with herbarium vouchers stored in local herbaria and the corresponding sequences stored in GenBank. The resulting interdisciplinary insights into grassy biome history and function have only just begun: for example, phylogenetic diversity of Malagasy grasslands indicate their function as natural ecosystems (Vorontsova et al., 2016), while genetic diversity of Loudetia simplex indicates a pre-human origin on Loudetia-dominated grasslands in highland Madagascar (Hagl et al., 2020).