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Universität Potsdam (2016)

Savanna dynamics under extreme conditions

Synodinos Alexios D.

Titre : Savanna dynamics under extreme conditions

Savannendynamik unter extremen Bedingungen

Auteur : Synodinos Alexios D.

Université de soutenance : Universität Potsdam

Grade : Doctoral Thesis 2016

Résumé partiel
Savannas cover a broad geographical range across continents and are a biome best described by a mix of herbaceous and woody plants. The former create a more or less continuous layer while the latter should be sparse enough to leave an open canopy. What has long intrigued ecologists is how these two competing plant life forms of vegetation coexist. Initially attributed to resource competition, coexistence was considered the stable outcome of a root niche differentiation between trees and grasses. The importance of environmental factors became evident later, when data from moister environments demonstrated that tree cover was often lower than what the rainfall conditions would allow for. Our current understanding relies on the interaction of competition and disturbances in space and time. Hence, the influence of grazing and fire and the corresponding feedbacks they generate have been keenly investigated. Grazing removes grass cover, initiating a self-reinforcing process propagating tree cover expansion. This is known as the encroachment phenomenon. Fire, on the other hand, imposes a bottleneck on the tree population by halting the recruitment of young trees into adulthood. Since grasses fuel fires, a feedback linking grazing, grass cover, fire, and tree cover is created. In African savannas, which are the focus of this dissertation, these feedbacks play a major role in the dynamics. The importance of these feedbacks came into sharp focus when the notion of alternative states began to be applied to savannas. Alternative states in ecology arise when different states of an ecosystem can occur under the same conditions. According to this an open savanna and a tree-dominated savanna can be classified as alternative states, since they can both occur under the same climatic conditions. The aforementioned feedbacks are critical in the creation of alternative states. The grass-fire feedback can preserve an open canopy as long as fire intensity and frequency remain above a certain threshold. Conversely, crossing a grazing threshold can force an open savanna to shift to a tree-dominated state. Critically, transitions between such alternative states can produce hysteresis, where a return to pre-transition conditions will not suffice to restore the ecosystem to its original state.

Mots clés  : Koexistenz Mechanismen ; Savannen Resilienz ; Verbuschung ; mathematische Modelierung Savanna ecology ; Savanna resilience ; coexistence mechanisms ; early warning signals ; mathematical modelling ; woody encroachment

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Page publiée le 26 septembre 2017, mise à jour le 1er décembre 2018