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When is a 'forest' a savanna and why does it matter?

Ratnam, Jayashree, Bond, William J., Fensham, Rod J., Hoffman, William A., Archibald, Sally, Lehmann, Caroline E.R., Anderson, Michael T., Higgins, Steven I. and Sankaran, Mahesh (2011). When is a 'forest' a savanna and why does it matter?. Global Ecology and Biogeography,20(5):653-660.

Document type: Journal Article
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IRMA ID 83093774xPUB168
Title When is a 'forest' a savanna and why does it matter?
Author Ratnam, Jayashree
Bond, William J.
Fensham, Rod J.
Hoffman, William A.
Archibald, Sally
Lehmann, Caroline E.R.
Anderson, Michael T.
Higgins, Steven I.
Sankaran, Mahesh
Journal Name Global Ecology and Biogeography
Publication Date 2011
Volume Number 20
Issue Number 5
ISSN 1466-822X   (check CDU catalogue open catalogue search in new window)
Start Page 653
End Page 660
Total Pages 8
Place of Publication United Kingdom
Publisher Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
HERDC Category C1 - Journal Article (DIISR)
Abstract Savannas are defined based on vegetation structure, the central concept being a discontinuous tree cover in a continuous grass understorey. However, at the high-rainfall end of the tropical savanna biome, where heavily wooded mesic savannas begin to structurally resemble forests, or where tropical forests are degraded such that they open out to structurally resemble savannas, vegetation structure alone may be inadequate to distinguish mesic savanna from forest. Additional knowledge of the functional differences between these ecosystems which contrast sharply in their evolutionary and ecological history is required. Specifically, we suggest that tropical mesic savannas are predominantly mixed tree–C4 grass systems defined by fire tolerance and shade intolerance of their species, while forests, from which C4 grasses are largely absent, have species that are mostly fire intolerant and shade tolerant. Using this framework, we identify a suite of morphological, physiological and life-history traits that are likely to differ between tropical mesic savanna and forest species. We suggest that these traits can be used to distinguish between these ecosystems and thereby aid their appropriate management and conservation. We also suggest that many areas in South Asia classified as tropical dry forests, but characterized by fire-resistant tree species in a C4 grass-dominated understorey, would be better classified as mesic savannas requiring fire and light to maintain the unique mix of species that characterize them.
Keywords Degraded forests
Fire tolerance
Functional traits
Mesic savannas
Shade intolerance
South Asia
Tropical dry forests
Tropical savannas
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Created: Fri, 17 Jan 2014, 00:54:47 CST