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Moustakas, Aristides; Kunin, William E.; Cameron, Tom C.; Sankaran, Mahesh (2013)
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Journal: PLoS ONE
Languages: English
Types: Article
Subjects: Research Article, Biology, Community Ecology, Plant Ecology, Terrestrial Environments, Medicine, Ecological Environments, Trees, Biological Sciences, Q, R, Ecology, Plant-Environment Interactions, Species Interactions, Plants, Science, Plant Science, Plant Growth and Development, Spatial and Landscape Ecology, Biologiska vetenskaper
Savanna ecosystems are dominated by two distinct plant life forms, grasses and trees, but the interactions between them are poorly understood. Here, we quantified the effects of isolated savanna trees on grass biomass as a function of distance from the base of the tree and tree height, across a precipitation gradient in the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Our results suggest that mean annual precipitation (MAP) mediates the nature of tree-grass interactions in these ecosystems, with the impact of trees on grass biomass shifting qualitatively between 550 and 737 mm MAP. Tree effects on grass biomass were facilitative in drier sites (MAP <= 550 mm), with higher grass biomass observed beneath tree canopies than outside. In contrast, at the wettest site (MAP = 737 mm), grass biomass did not differ significantly beneath and outside tree canopies. Within this overall precipitation-driven pattern, tree height had positive effect on sub-canopy grass biomass at some sites, but these effects were weak and not consistent across the rainfall gradient. For a more synthetic understanding of tree-grass interactions in savannas, future studies should focus on isolating the different mechanisms by which trees influence grass biomass, both positively and negatively, and elucidate how their relative strengths change over broad environmental gradients.

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