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Grasslands & steppes


In the large Iberian plateaus, in wild and lonely plains, lies a steppe lanscape created by man in their quest to tame the cereal. This is a landscape that, despite their anthropogenic origin, has a composition of flora and fauna very similar to that of other steppe formations of natural character. Herbaceous vegetation dominates any other, creating a uniform vegetation cover that extends beyond the horizon. In this tapestry, periodically plowed, just thrive on fast-growing species which are able to adjust their life cycle to that of the cereal. Nitrophilous species all, the so-called "weeds" are however a highly nutritious food source, well used by the animals who dare to wander through these open spaces. This entails a food chain of the most peculiar that shows how nature is able to adapt to the changes caused by humans, as if each new ladscape created by them she had planned a natural analogue. Mammals (Crocidura sp., Talpa sp., Microtus sp., Arvicola sp., Mus sp., Apodemus sp., etc) and granivorous and insectivorous passerines (finches, larks and warblers) are struggling to harness the manna offered by the harvest and provide food for snakes, harriers and grass-owls. The big steppe birds (bustards, little bustards and sandgrouses) also thrive in these plains, reaching considerable dimensions in a seemingly barren land.

Despite the large role of the anthropogenic steppes, there are in the Iberian Peninsula other natural steppe formations, the real Mediterranean steppes. In the semi-desert areas of South and Southeast, or in extreme continental areas, with a lithology away from the most resistant trees, you can find a landscape dominated by small-sized shrubs (legumes, Cistaceae, Labiatae...) or low coverage grasses (Stipa sp., Brachypodium sp., etc). This landscape, despite its common appearance, contains some of the most interesting plants of Peninsular floristic list, many of them endemic to our land (Sedum sp., Limonium sp., Euphorbia sp., etc). The fauna in these places shares alements with the arable steppes, but is enriched by a large number of species that appear coming from the North African plains (Oenanthe sp., Cercotrichas sp., Chersophilus sp., Coracias sp., Merops sp., Lanius sp., etc).


Finally it is worth noting one of the Peninsula's most threatened environments: the grasslands. This is a landscape that, although also includes natural formations, in our latitudes has mainly a livestock origin, so it is very exposed to the change of new models of intensive exploitation. The grasslands of the Cantabrian, Pyrinees and other sub-mediterranean climates contain the highest biodiversity of grasses in the Iberian Peninsula, plus a large number of highly specialized species of animals.


The steppes and meadows offer, both in its anthropogenic or natural form, a lesson in how to take full advantage of the most austere conditions. Many of these landscapes are the result of a long harmonious relationship between man and nature, a sustainable relationship perpetuated for millennia which should be an exaple for future generations.