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Combatting global grassland degradation

Abstract

Grasslands are under severe threat from ongoing degradation, undermining their capacity to support biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being. Yet, grasslands are largely ignored in sustainable development agendas. In this Perspective, we examine the current state of global grasslands and explore the extent and dominant drivers of their degradation. Socio-ecological solutions are needed to combat degradation and promote restoration. Important strategies include: increasing recognition of grasslands in global policy; developing standardized indicators of degradation; using scientific innovation for effective restoration at regional and landscape scales; and enhancing knowledge transfer and data sharing on restoration experiences. Stakeholder needs can be balanced through standardized assessment and shared understanding of the potential ecosystem service trade-offs in degraded and restored grasslands. The integration of these actions into sustainability policy will aid in halting degradation and enhancing restoration success, and protect the socio-economic, cultural and ecological benefits that grasslands provide.

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Fig. 1: Degraded grasslands.
Fig. 2: Standardized assessment of grassland degradation and restoration.
Fig. 3: Assessing ecosystem service trade-offs in degraded and restored European grasslands.
Fig. 4: Assessing ecosystem service trade-offs in degraded and restored grasslands in arid and semi-arid Eastern Africa.

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Acknowledgements

R.D.B. and N.O. acknowledge support from BBSRC in the form of a Global Challenge Research Fund Impact Acceleration Account (GCRF-IAA) award (BB/GCRF-IAA/14) and a GCRF Foundation Award (BB/P022987/1) “Restoring soil function and resilience to degraded grasslands”, and the N8 via an AgriFood Programme pump priming grant. U.S. acknowledges support from the Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development (r4d) “Woody invasive alien species in East Africa: assessing and mitigating their negative impact on ecosystem services and rural livelihood” (grant number 400440_152085) and core financial support from CABI and its member countries (http://www.cabi.org/about-cabi/who-we-work-with/key-donors/).

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R.D.B. conceived the idea and gained funding with input from N.O. R.D.B. wrote the paper, with significant input from J.M.B., P.M., U.S. and S. Lavorel. G.L.P. and P.M. designed the figures. All authors contributed to the development of ideas and writing of the paper.

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Correspondence to Richard D. Bardgett.

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Bardgett, R.D., Bullock, J.M., Lavorel, S. et al. Combatting global grassland degradation. Nat Rev Earth Environ 2, 720–735 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-021-00207-2

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