Before Europeans came to Tasmania, native grasslands stretched from Hobart in the south through to Launceston in the north. They are a part of that early glimpse of Australia - a land of rolling grassland plains. They are an important part of our national identity and a part of our natural heritage.
What are grasslands?
Native grasslands are characterised by the reddish tinge of kangaroo grass (Themeda) that you can still see in some paddocks in autumn. However today much of Tasmania's native grasslands have been replaced by the bright green of introduced pasture which turns yellow in the drier weather.
In alpine areas the dominant grass in native grasslands is tussock grass (Poa), whereas in low-lying areas kangaroo and wallaby grasses dominate. Shrubs do not generally occur in native grasslands and those areas with native trees are described as grassy woodlands. Clearing for pasture does not create native grasslands. Native grasslands are home to a myriad of native plants and animals including orchids, lillies, daisies, sundews, bandicoots and butterflies.
The distribution of native grasslands are illustrated on this distribution map.
Grasslands are unique
Grasslands support a huge variety of native Australian plants and animals. Some of these are endemic to Tasmania (only occur here). The Tunbridge buttercup is a tiny plant that only occurs in Tasmania. It is listed as a threatened species and is restricted to four properties. A large variety of orchids occur in native grasslands. Every spring, orchid enthusiasts from around the State go in search of these fascinating and exotic-looking plants. Orchid names often reflect their individuality and include the spider, sun and trim leek orchid.
The eastern barred bandicoot relies on native grasslands. It feeds on the grubs beneath the soil such as corbie and cockchafer beetle larvae. These grubs are pasture pests feeding on plant roots. There is an estimated greater biomass of grubs under the soil than sheep above it!
Loss of native grasslands and the introduction of predators such as cats have lead to a rapid decline in the eastern-barred bandicoots, particularly in the Midlands. Insects such as native wasps hide amongst and feed on the native grassland flowers. They lay their eggs on pasture grubs which then parasitise the grubs. Native bees and bandicoots help maintain the ecological balance of insect pests.
Also found in native grasslands are three types of grass skink. One of these, the tussock skink (Pseudemoia pagenstecheri) has only been collected from remnant grasslands such as the Township Lagoon Nature Reserve, Queens Domain, Hobart and the northern Midlands.
The endemic and threatened Ptunarra brown butterfly is another animal that relies on our native grasslands. It drops its eggs amongst the poa grass. When the eggs hatch the larvae feed on the native poa. These butterflies are restricted to areas of native grasslands and grassy woodlands in the Midlands, Central Plateau and Northwest Plains.
Native grasslands are the natural diet of grazing species such as wombats, while the preferred habitat of the bettong is open woodland with a grassy understorey. Bettongs collect and carry grass in their prehensile tails to suitable nesting sites.
Grasslands are a threatened community
Native grasslands are threatened by habitat clearing for urban and rural development and agriculture. As suburbs spread out from the main cities, more roads, houses, shopping centres and businesses are built on native grassland areas. In these areas grasslands become reduced to remnant patches such as roadside verges or cemeteries.
For details of the measures that can be taken to ensure that our native grasslands are protected, please see the Department of Primary Industries and Water web site and Managing Tasmanian Native Pastures - A Technical Guide for Graziers.