Tree-grass co-existence in savanna: Interactions of rain and fire

Francesco Accatino, Carlo De Michele, Renata Vezzoli, Davide Donzelli, Robert J Scholes
Journal of Theoretical Biology 2010 November 21, 267 (2): 235-42
The mechanisms permitting the co-existence of tree and grass in savannas have been a source of contention for many years. The two main classes of explanations involve either competition for resources, or differential sensitivity to disturbances. Published models focus principally on one or the other of these mechanisms. Here we introduce a simple ecohydrologic model of savanna vegetation involving both competition for water, and differential sensitivity of trees and grasses to fire disturbances. We show how the co-existence of trees and grasses in savannas can be simultaneously controlled by rainfall and fire, and how the relative importance of the two factors distinguishes between dry and moist savannas. The stability map allows to predict the changes in vegetation structure along gradients of rainfall and fire disturbances realistically, and to clarify the distinction between climate- and disturbance-dependent ecosystems.

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