Mounting livestock numbers could put the world’s grasslands on track to become an anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions source, according to a Nature Communications paper by international researchers.

Grasslands, the planet’s most prevalent ecosystems, take in as well as give off greenhouse gases. In their natural state, these areas can lock carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere into the earth. But they also result in emissions of CO2 from land conversion, nitrous oxide (N2O) from soils, and methane (CH4) from grazing livestock.

Despite these fluxes, global grassland GHG release and storage had not been closely examined before. The researchers wanted to understand how animal agriculture and indirect human impacts — including climate change, rising carbon dioxide levels, and regional shifts in nitrogen — have impacted GHG absorption and emissions in grasslands. To do this, the team modeled trends from 1750 to 2012, both for lands with livestock and lands left relatively undisturbed.

Read the full article about grasslands turning into carbon sources by Julia John at Food Tank.