|The grass Cenchrus setaceus (Pennisetum setaceum) spikelets|
If you ask people which place in the world has the most species in a given area, many of them would probably pick the tropical rainforests.
The concept of the tropical rainforests as being the most diverse ecological environment on Earth has been drummed into us continuously by popular culture, but it turns out that answer is only partially correct.
|By Dukeabruzzi - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0|
When researchers counted the number of vascular plant species in different environments around the world, they discovered that the answer to that question depends on how large an area you consider when counting (Wilson et al, 2012).
The most diverse environment in the world when you look at an area greater than 100 m2 is indeed the tropical rainforest. For example, a tropical rainforest in Ecuador had 942 species of vascular plants living in 1 hectare (10,000 m2) of land.
But when you look at smaller areas, the answer turns out to be different. When they counted the number of species of vascular plants in an area smaller than 100 m2, they found out that the most diverse environments are actually temperate grasslands. For example, a mountain grassland in Argentina had an absolutely amazing 89 vascular plant species packed into a single square meter (click table below)!
I'll admit that actually blew my mind because I can't imagine fitting almost 100 plant species (not individual plants, but different species!) into an area only half the size of a small twin bed.
|(Wilson et al, 2012)|
|Spikelets of the native grass Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)|