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Steal the light: shade vs fire adapted vegetation in forest-savanna mosaics.

08:00 EDT 31st March 2018 | BioPortfolio

Summary of "Steal the light: shade vs fire adapted vegetation in forest-savanna mosaics."

Shade cast by trees, which suppresses grass growth, and fire fuelled by grass biomass, which prevents tree sapling establishment, are mutually exclusive and self-reinforcing drivers of biome distribution in savanna-forest mosaics. We investigated how shade depth, represented by canopy leaf area index (LAI), is generated by adult trees across savanna-forest boundaries and how a shade gradient filters tree functioning, and grass composition and biomass. Forest trees exerted greater shading through increased stem density and greater light interception per unit biomass. A critical transition at LAI c. 1.5 was linked to tree shifts from savanna to forest species, functional shifts from fire-tolerant to light-competitive species, and grass composition shifts from Cto Cpathways. A second transition to grass fuel loads too low to support fires, occurred at a lower canopy density (LAI > 0.5), accompanied by shifts in Csubtype dominance. This pattern suggests that shade suppression of grass biomass is an essential first step for the maintenance of alternative stable states.

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Name: The New phytologist
ISSN: 1469-8137
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