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Why grass?


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I was driving into town the other day and my attention was caught by the fine crop of grass growing along the shoulder of the road. The grass was of one species, and due to the good season, it had grown straight and tall and, I assume, had set a lot of seed. I wondered how much area this self-sown crop covered. If the shoulder was, say, 3 metres wide, then for every 3.3 kilometres along the road, it would cover 1 hectare. That's a lot of fodder that had not been eaten.

 

But why does grass exist? You could say that it is there to provide feed for animals and insects, but that is putting the cart before the horse. Recent studies of fossilized dinosaur poop indicate that from about 70 million years ago there were identifiable botanical families of grasses being eaten by herbivorous dinosaurs and it is suggested that early mammals supped on grass as well. But those animals were simply taking advantage of a food source available to them. The question remains, "What was it that caused an ancient plant form to develop into the complex organism that is a grass plant?" 

 

Interestingly, very few ancient creation stories mention the creation of anythings other than the heavens and the earth, and Mankind. It seems that it is only in the Hebrew book of Genesis at Genesis 1:11-12 that the creation of plants is mentioned. (I find it strangely coincidental that the Hebrew creation story is a condensation of the sequence modern science presents to us.)

 

Why grass? Perhaps we will never know.

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Then again it Could be just ' sea grass ' climbing the sand dunes ever higher !.

AND

The ' manities/Dougongs ' may have followed the grass & became  ' Hippopoti ' .

Why did that first land mass get up above sea level ?.

My theory is !

It was a part of the ' moon ' .' Binary planet,s ' with one hit by a monstrous asteroid. With one lump falling onto it,s water world companion. 

spaceasilor

 

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1 hour ago, old man emu said:

…If the shoulder was, say, 3 metres wide, then for every 3.3 kilometres along the road, it would cover 1 hectare. That's a lot of fodder that had not been eaten.

Immigrants to our country scratch their heads about the land we waste, including huge wide rural road corridors. Perhaps originally designed to be broad enough for a bullock or horse-drawn vehicle to make a U-turn, our roadsides are now mostly weeds. As well as providing hiding places for roos to leap into the path of approaching vehicles, the fire potential is enormous.


During the recent drought I stopped to talk with a neighbouring farmer as he grazed his stock on a quiet roadside. He described the beaurocratic hoops he had to jump thru to get permission and insurance cover, yet his cattle were doing the community a considerable service by massively reducing the fire hazard- for zero cost to the taxpayer. Surely drivers wouldn’t mind occasionally slowing for grazing stock which tidy up our roadsides. It would save Councils sqillions in slashing costs.

 

I suggested to our local authorities that here was a great opportunity for them to greatly reduce fire hazards by getting together with the RFS and other agencies to encourage stock grazing the long paddock and streamline the onerous application process. 
 

I suspect the Bushfire Industry has no interest in clever risk reduction unless they are in charge of it.

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Probably dates back to the days of droving herds of cattle and flocks of sheep when there was little alternative transport. Somewhere for the animals to graze as they travelled.  

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Early road reserves, as surveyed, were 1 chain wide (20 metres approx). Then, when motorised vehicles appeared (generally around WW1), and speeds increased, and more room was needed for bigger loads, road reserves were increased to 2 chains, as surveyed.

Then after WW2, it was realised that divided carriageways were going to be needed for future high speed, high density traffic - so the road reserves on important roads were widened again - to 3 chains, and sometimes even 5 chains.

 

In NSW and QLD, many routes were gazetted as Stock Routes (Travelling Stock Routes or Travelling Stock Reserves) for droving large herds across the country, so they were surveyed much wider.

I'm not 100% familiar with the NSW and QLD TSR's, but it appears they were varying widths, with extra-wide sections for stock resting.

 

The TSR's all contained roads, AFAIK. Interestingly, in Victoria, the TSR's were surveyed, but never gazetted - so they were swallowed up in the road reserve network.

W.A. has practically no TSR's due to its later establishment and development.  AFAIK, the Canning Stock Route is the only remaining Stock Route in W.A.

In later developed (1960's) wheatbelt areas of W.A., road reserves were surveyed at 5 chains and some were even made 10 chains. This was done to counter the effects of excessive clearing, such as salt encroachmment and wind erosion.

 

These TSR's and wider road reserves are regarded as important native habitat remnants that must be preserved as much as possible. One of the problems though, is that introduced weeds and grasses have largely strangled a lot of native vegetation, and has only reduced the value of the remnant native Australian bush. Many of our invasive grasses came from overseas, and many were introduced accidentally - but some were introduced on purpose, then took dominance over the native grasses.

 

I think the grasses have slowly been altering their physiology to cope with changes, far better than many other plants - but mankind has more than likely played a big part in spreading grasses.

Plant Physiology devotes a whole chapter to the evolution of Grasses, it seems generally agreed that they appeared at the end of the Cretaceous Period, and no doubt the climate of the time assisted in their spread.

 

https://academic.oup.com/plphys/article/125/3/1198/6109905?login=true#sec-6

 

https://assets.nationbuilder.com/natureorg/legacy_url/2757/6-the-tsr-network-heritage-habitat-and-livelihood-2011.pdf?1630462729

 

I spent a lot of time during my working career, widening roads in the 1960's to 1990's - and 1 chain road reserves were a PIA, as once a road was widened to meet standards such as 7M width for rural roads, and 8M width for highway standard, this allowed little room for remnant native vegetation, between the outside edge of the roadside drains, and the fences.

As a result, as roadworkers, we were often the target of abuse and hatred for "decimating the countryside" and taking out lovely mature trees. I didn't like taking the trees out, either - but the demands of modern transport and machinery dimensions meant there was little choice between good high-speed safe roads, or leaving the mature vegetation. The people who abused us were generally driving high end 4WD's, and they all liked travelling in comfort and safety, at high speeds! You can't have your cake and eat it, too!

 

Edited by onetrack
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Spot on, OT. The use of TSRs for droving stock has almost died out, so in NSW many were sold off years ago. 
As you point out, their value as remnant vegetation reserves is now more appreciated; that’s where we find a few very rare species of plants and animals.

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1 hour ago, onetrack said:

https://academic.oup.com/plphys/article/125/3/1198/6109905?login=true#sec-6

That's a very interesting article, but beware. Check the publish date. It was published in 2001. Before 2005, fossil findings indicated that grasses evolved around 55 million years ago.

Finds of grass-like phytoliths in Cretaceous dinosaur coprolites from the latest Cretaceous (Maastrichtian) aged Lameta Formation of India have pushed this date back to 66 million years ago. In 2011, fossils from the same deposit suggested a date as early as 107 to 129 Mya for the origin of the rice tribe Oryzeae.

 

Wu, You & Li (2018) described grass microfossils extracted from a specimen of the hadrosauroid dinosaur Equijubus normani from the Early Cretaceous (Albian) Zhonggou Formation (China), which were found to belong to primitive lineages within Poaceae, which is the Botanical Family of grasses.

 

[Funny aside:  My spellchecker didn't know "coprolites" and suggested "profiteroles" as a correction to the spelling. I just can't get the shit-eating grin off my face.]

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