Patch dynamics integrate mechanisms for savanna tree–grass coexistence

2009 | journal article; research paper. A publication with affiliation to the University of Göttingen.

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​Patch dynamics integrate mechanisms for savanna tree–grass coexistence​
Meyer, K. M. ; Wiegand, K.   & Ward, D. ​ (2009) 
Basic and Applied Ecology10(6) pp. 491​-499​.​ DOI: 

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Meyer, Katrin M. ; Wiegand, Kerstin ; Ward, David 
Many mechanisms have been suggested to explain the coexistence of woody species and grasses in savannas. However, evidence from field studies and simulation models has been mixed. Patch dynamics is a potentially unifying mechanism explaining tree-grass coexistence and the natural occurrence of shrub encroachment in arid and semi-arid savannas. A patch-dynamic savanna consists of a spatial mosaic of patches. Each patch maintains a cyclical succession between dominance of woody species and grasses, and the succession of neighbouring patches is temporally asynchronous. Evidence from empirical field studies supports the patch dynamics view of savannas. As a basis for future tests of patch dynamics in savannas, several hypotheses are presented and one is exemplarily examined: at the patch scale, realistically parameterized simulation models have generated cyclical succession between woody and grass dominance. In semi-arid savannas, cyclical successions are driven by precipitation conditions that lead to mass recruitment of shrubs in favourable years and to simultaneous collapse of shrub cohorts in drought years. The spatiotemporal pattern of precipitation events determines the scale of the savanna vegetation mosaic in space and time. In a patch-dynamic savanna, shrub encroachment is a natural, transient phase corresponding to the shrub-dominated phase during the successional cycle. Hence, the most promising management strategy for encroached areas is a large-scale rotation system of rangelands. In conclusion, patch dynamics is a possible scale-explicit mechanism for the explanation of tree-grass coexistence in savannas that integrates most of the coexistence mechanisms proposed thus far for savannas.
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Basic and Applied Ecology 
Fakultät für Forstwissenschaften und Waldökologie ; Büsgen-Institut ; Abteilung Ökosystemmodellierung 
Competition; Cyclical succession; Grasses; Mosaic cycles; Shrub encroachment; Shrubs; Simulation models; Spatiotemporal scales; Woody species



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