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Resilience and Thresholds in Savannas: Nitrogen and Fireas Drivers and Responders of Vegetation Transition
Plant Conservation Unit, Botany Department, University of Cape Town.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, African and Comparative Archaeology.
2009 (English)In: Ecosystems (New York. Print), ISSN 1432-9840, E-ISSN 1435-0629, Vol. 12, 1189-1203 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Resilience theory suggests that ecosystems can persist for long periods, before changing rapidly to a new vegetation phase. Transition between phases occurs when ecological thresholds have been crossed, and is followed by a reorganization of biotic and environmental interactions, leading to the emergence of a new vegetation phase or quasistable state. Savannas are dynamic, complex systems in which fire, herbivory, water and nutrient availability interact to determine tree abundance. Phase and transition has been observed in savannas, but the role of these different possible drivers is not always clear. In this study, our objectives were to identify phase and transition in the fossil pollen record, and then to explore the role of nitrogen and fire in these transitions using d15N isotopes and charcoal abundance. We present palaeoenvironmental data from the Kruger National Park, South Africa, which show transition between grassland and savanna phases. Our results show transition at the end of the ninth century A.D. from a nutrient and herbivore-limited grazing lawn, in which fire was absent and C4 grasses were the dominant and competitively superior plant form, to a water-, fire and herbivory-limited semi-arid savanna, in which C4 grasses and C3 trees and shrubs co-existed. The data accord with theoretical frameworks that predict that variability in ecosystems clusters in regions of higher probability space, interspersed by rapid transitions between these phases. The data are also consistent with the idea that phase transitions involve switching between different dominant driving processes or limiting factors.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
New York, N.Y.: Springer , 2009. Vol. 12, 1189-1203 p.
Keyword [en]
Feedbacks, Phase, Transition, Hysteresis, Pollen, Charcoal, Isotopes
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-119238OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-119238DiVA: diva2:299888
Kruger environments
Available from: 2010-02-24 Created: 2010-02-24 Last updated: 2011-02-14Bibliographically approved

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