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Tropical Savannas

Savanna
Referred to as grasslands or plains;
But over time, it was applied to an
array of vegetation types
representing a continuum of
increasing cover of woody
vegetation, from open grassland to
widely spaced shrubs or trees to
closed woodland.

Some savannas are natural


Others are seminatural, brought
about and maintained by centuries of
human interference.

may be subdivided into three


categorieswet, dry, and thornbush
depending on the length of the dry
season.
In wet savannas the dry season typically
lasts 3 to 5 months,
in dry savannas 5 to 7 months, and
in thornbush savannas it is even longer.

An alternative subdivision
recognizes:
savanna woodland, with trees and
shrubs forming a light canopy;
tree savanna, with scattered trees and
shrubs; shrub savanna, with scattered
shrubs; and
grass savanna, from which trees and
shrubs are generally absent.

Occur on land surfaces of little relief,


often old alluvial plains.

Moisture appears to control the


density of woody vegetation, a
function of both rainfall and soil its
texture, structure, and water-holding
capacity.

The soils are low in nutrients, due in


part to infertile parent material and a
long period of weathering.
Are associated with a warm
continental climate with precipitation
ranging between 500mm and
2000mm. Precipitation exhibits
extreme season fluctuations.

Are subject to recurrent fires, and the


dominant vegetation is fire-adapted.

Vegetation
Grass, mostly
bunch or
tussock, the
major and
most
essential
stratum of
the savanna
ecosystem.

A woody component adds one or two


vertical layers, ranging from about
50-80cm when small woody shrubs
are present to about 8m in the tree
savanna.

Competition may exist between


grass and woody vegetation for soil
moisture, but more intense
competition takes place among trees,
accounting for the spacing patterns
of woody vegetation.

The tussock grasses form an array of


clumps set in matrix of open ground,
creating patches of low vegetation
with frequent changes in
microclimatic conditions.
The addition of woody growth, the
widely spaces shrubs and trees,
increases horizontal structure
extending to the soil.

Trees add more organic matter and


nutrients to the soil, reduce
evapotranspiration, resulting in
increased herbaceous and woody
shrub growth, and provide patches of
shade.

There are also numerous marshy


depressions that support wetland
wildlife.

large ribbons of riverine or gallery


forests weave through the savannas.

Animal Life
Savannas are capable of supporting
a large and varied assemblage of
herbivores, invertebrate, and
vertebrate, grazing and browsing.

Dominant herbivores are the


invertebrates, including acrid mites,
acridid grasshoppers, seed-eating
ants, and detrital-feeding dung
beetles and termites.
Savannas support an incredible
number of insects: flies,
grasshoppers, locusts, crickets,
carabid beetles, and especially
termites and ants, which dominate

A strong element of grazing


ungulates represented by pampas
deer and the capybara (largest
rodent).
Granivorous(grain eater),
insectivorous, frugivorous(fruit eater)
birds become an important
component of the consumer
community.

Wildebeest and zebra, are migratory


during the dry season. Others, such
as the impala, partially disperse
during the dry season.
Still others, such as the giraffe and
Grants gazelle, have little or no
seasonal dispersal.

Grazers: zebra and wildebeest


Browsers: giraffe, Thompsons
gazelle, kudu, black rhino

Herbivores have short-term and longterm impacts on the savanna

Over the short-term, the grazing


ungulates affect vegetation
structure. Elephants can convert
woodland to grassland, and large
concentrations of grazers, can turn
grassland to eroded, bare ground.
Heavy grazing that reduces grass
cover can cause competitive release
of woody growth.

Over evolutionary time the selective


pressures of grazing have resulted in the
development of structural and chemical
defenses against grazing, such as
concentration of silica on leaves, and in the
alteration of growth process to respond
favorably to grazing.
Highly palatable plants retain a high
carbohudrate concentration in their crowns
and roots and respond quickly to defoliation.

Some acacia trees respond to


browsing by increasing growth.
Others have their growth form
altered and size reduced by
browsing, especially by giraffes.

Living on the ungulate fauna is an


array of carnivores, including the
lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, and
wild dog. Subsisting on leftover prey
are scavengers, including vultures
and jackals.

Function
a wide range of production exists
between grass savanna on one end
of the gradient and tree savanna and
woodlands on the other.

On the wet season, moisture releases


nutrients from materials accumulated in
the dry season and stimulates nutrient
translocation from the roots. This would
then be followed by a quick flush of
growth into grass and woody plants.
Nutrient movement bet. soil and
vegetation is generally higher under the
trees than in the open.

Savanna trees exhibit tight internal


cycling.
Nitrogen concentration in the leaves,
decreases as the dry season
approaches, with maximum
withdrawal before leaf fall.
Trees transfer some of the nitrogen
into new woody growth, but much of
it goes to the root reserve, where it is
available to stimulate the flush of

ants and termites consume and


break down plant litter and modify
the soil.
Mound-building termites excavate
and move tons of soil, mixing mineral
soil with organic matter.
Some species galleries, and others
accumulate organic matter.

Comprising over 50 percent of soil


biomass, termites have a
considerable impact on the physical
and chemical properties of savanna
soil.

Human Impact
Humans have had such a close
association with savanna vegetation,
especially in Africa, that it is difficult
to separate human influences from
natural influences on the shaping on
savanna ecosystem.

Introduction of crops, grazing


animals, and settlements has
accentuated the dry season and
increased the desiccation of the drier
savannas.
*Desiccation has allowed the
desserts to encroach

cutting and burning of trees for fuel


wood,
Destruction by domestic grazing
animals,
and the loss of grass cover
Help to expose the soil to wind and
water erosion.