Understanding nutrient dynamics in an African savanna: local biotic interactions outweigh a major regional rainfall gradient

M.P. Veldhuis, A. Hulshof, W. Fokkema, M.P. Berg, H. Olff

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Nutrient availability in terrestrial ecosystems has been found to vary along regional climatic and soil gradients and drive variation in plant community composition and vegetation structure. However, more local biotic feedbacks also affect nutrient availability, but their importance in determining vegetation structure relative to regional drivers is yet unclear. Mesic African savannas form a transition zone between the dry grasslands with relatively low nitrogen availability (indicated by low plant N:P ratios) and the wet woodlands of the continent characterized by relatively low phosphorous availability (high plant N:P ratios). They host strong feedback mechanisms of both vegetation and consumers, where large grazers can create short grazing lawns that alternate over short distances with tall fire-dominated bunch grasslands, and patches dominated by woody species with abundant macrodetritivores. Here, we test if such local biotic interactions can overrule regional, landscape-level drivers of plant nutrient availability. In a South African savanna, we find that plant N:P ratios, N and P resorption efficiencies and proficiencies, were indeed much stronger affected by small-scale biotic-created heterogeneity than by a regional rainfall gradient (530–830 mm yr
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)913-923
JournalJournal of Ecology
Volume104
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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