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Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität (2015)

Termite mounds as islands of diversity in West African savanna landscapes

Erpenbach Arne

Titre : Termite mounds as islands of diversity in West African savanna landscapes

Auteur : Erpenbach Arne

Université de soutenance : Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität

Grade : Doktorgrades der Naturwissenschaften 2015

Résumé partiel
Termites are important ecosystem engineers of the savanna biome, with the large mounds of fungus-cultivating termites being sources of habitat heterogeneity and structural complexity in African savanna landscapes. Studies from different localities throughout Africa have shown that termite mounds have a strong influence of diversity and composition of plant communities. However, most research has been conducted only at the local scale, and integrating knowledge across Africa is hampered by different methodology of studies and differing environmental context. Little is known about the variation in vegetation composition on termite mounds compared to the surrounding savanna at the regional scale and at the landscape scale, and the main determinants of plant communities on mounds are yet to be ascertained. This thesis aimes at better understanding the influence of termite mounds on vegetation compared to the surrounding savanna across spatial scales. Three research projects analyse vegetation data and soil data from paired mound and savanna plots in West Africa. The first project examines the influence of termite-induced heterogeneity on plant diversity and vegetation composition at a regional scale, following a bioclimatic gradient from the Sahel of Burkina Faso to the Sudanian vegetation zone in North Benin. The second Project analysed variation of vegetation on and off mounds at the landscape scale in Pendjari National Park, North Benin. The third is a monitoring study over the course of two years, exploring dynamics of juvenile woody plant communities on mounds and in the surrounding savanna at a local scale. The thesis thus provides the first comparative quantitative analysis across scales of mound and savanna vegetation and the drivers of the mound–savanna difference in vegetation. Synthesizing across scales, its results confirm that termite mounds strongly contribute to savanna plant diversity, even though mounds are not generally more species rich than the surrounding savanna. Variation in mound vegetation is much higher along climatic and soil gradients than previously acknowledged. Mound vegetation differs from the surrounding savanna in the whole study area and in each sampled savanna type, with the strongest differences occurring at the most humid study sites. A large proportion of the differences between mound and savanna vegetation is explained by clay enrichment and related soil factors, such as cation concentrations. Plants on mounds thus benefit from favourable soil conditions, including higher fertility and higher water availability, which is also mirrored by the higher abundance and basal area of juvenile woody plants found on mounds. The variation in mound vegetation between study sites across scales results in part from local differences in soil composition and from climatic differences that influence the regional distribution of species. Different sets of characteristic mound species are identified in each project. Specific plant families and traits like succulency, lianescence, and adaptations to zoochory are found to be overrepresented in mound communities.

Mots clés  : Macrotermes ; biodiversity ; geoecology ; habitat heterogeneity ; vegetation

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