On the wide-open plains of the Sugadaira and Minenohara highlands, red-budded great burnets dot the landscape amid lavender hues of Japanese lady bell flowers, relics of the last Ice Age that persist on the rolling hills of modern-day Japan. A century ago, rich grasslands accounted for about 13% of the country’s land area, but that number dwindled to just 1% by the early 2000s. A recent study conducted on Japan’s main island of Honshu suggests the key to conserving these vulnerable ecosystems may lie in their past. By comparing Japan’s old and new grasslands, the study published in Ecological Research finds it may be worth prioritizing the conservation of older grasslands because they have more biodiversity. In the study, scientists define new grasslands as less than 70 years old while the old grasslands can be anywhere from 160 to thousands of years old. Great burnets (Sanguisorba officinalis) are indicator species in central Japan’s grasslands, meaning their presence tells researchers this grassland could be hundreds or thousands of years old. Researchers did not find any such indicator species in new, or younger, grasslands. Image courtesy of Kenta Tanaka. The researchers found Japanese lady bell (Adenophora triphylla) in all old grasslands included in the study, but not in new grasslands or forests. They attribute this to the flowering plant’s inefficient seed dispersal. Image courtesy of Kenta Tanaka. “Oldness is an irretrievable factor,” said Taiki Inoue, a conservation ecologist at the University of Tsukuba and the study’s lead author. “Showing the value of…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer

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