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Abrupt shifts in African savanna tree cover along a climatic gradient

Favier C., Aleman J., Bremond L., Dubois M.A., Freycon V., Yangakola J.M.. 2012. Global Ecology and Biogeography, 21 (8) : p. 787-797.

Aim.To describe patterns of tree cover in savannas over a climatic gradient and a range of spatial scales and test if there are identifiable climate-related mean structures, if tree cover always increases with water availability and if there is a continuous trend or a stepwise trend in tree cover. Location. Central Tropical Africa. Methods. We compared a new analysis of satellite tree cover data with botanical, phytogeographical and environmental data. Results. Along the climatic transect, six vegetation structures were distinguished according to their average tree cover, which can co-occur as mosaics. The resulting abrupt shifts in tree cover were not correlated to any shifts in either environmental variables or in tree species distributions. Main conclusions. A strong contrast appears between fine-scale variability in tree cover and coarse-scale structural states that are stable over several degrees of latitude. While climate parameters and species pools display a continuous evolution along the climatic gradient, these stable structural states have discontinuous transitions, resulting in regions containing mosaics of alternative stable states. Soils appear to have little effect inside the climatic stable state domains but a strong action on the location of the transitions. This indicates that savannas are patch dynamics systems, prone to feedbacks stabilizing their coarse-scale structure over wide ranges of environmental conditions. (Résumé d'auteur)

Mots-clés : télédétection; espèce; biogéographie; taxonomie; dynamique des populations; Écologie; incendie de forêt; facteur édaphique; facteur climatique; forêt tropicale humide; forêt tropicale; couvert; végétation; changement climatique; savane; afrique centrale

Thématique : Ecologie végétale; Foresterie - Considérations générales; Taxonomie végétale et phyto-géographie

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