Critical habitats also include freshwater ecosystems, where 42 river ecosystems have been defined for the biome. Wetlands play an important role in African grasslands, in terms of water-based ecosystem services. The international importance of some of these wetlands has been recognised in the form of five Ramsar wetlands in the grasslands biome. There is also global recognition of the cultural and natural importance of the Grasslands Ecosystem through the establishment of three World Heritage Sites, namely the Cradle of Humankind, uKhahlamba-Drakensberg, and the Vredefort Dome.
Grasslands include about 3370 plant species. The term "grassland" creates the impression that the biome consists only of grass species. In fact, only one in six plant species in the biome is a grass. The remainder is bulbous plants such as arum lilies, aloes, watsonias, gladioli and ground orchids.
The area is also home to several animal species including 15 (or 45%) of South Africa’s endemic mammal species, 10 globally threatened bird species, 52 of the 122 Important Bird Areas in South Africa, and some endemic fish species. Some of the more recognisable animal species include blue cranes, blue swallows, oribi and bald ibis.
This biodiversity, and the ecosystem services that the grasslands produce, are under significant pressure. Of the 80 vegetation types in the biome, 2 are listed as critically endangered, 18 are endangered and 27 are classed as vulnerable. Of the biome’s river ecosystems, 83% are ranked as threatened, with 48% critically endangered.