Forests, savannas and grasslands : bridging the knowledge gap between ecology and dynamic global vegetation models

  • The forest, savanna, and grassland biomes, and the transitions between them, are expected to undergo major changes in the future, due to global climate change. Dynamic Global Vegetation Models (DGVMs) are very useful to understand vegetation dynamics under present climate, and to predict its changes under future conditions. However, several DGVMs display high uncertainty in predicting vegetation in tropical areas. Here we perform a comparative analysis of three different DGVMs (JSBACH, LPJ-GUESS-SPITFIRE and aDGVM) with regard to their representation of the ecological mechanisms and feedbacks that determine the forest, savanna and grassland biomes, in an attempt to bridge the knowledge gap between ecology and global modelling. Model outcomes, obtained including different mechanisms, are compared to observed tree cover along a mean annual precipitation gradient in Africa. Through these comparisons, and by drawing on the large number of recent studies that have delivered new insights into the ecology of tropical ecosystems in general, and of savannas in particular, we identify two main mechanisms that need an improved representation in the DGVMs. The first mechanism includes water limitation to tree growth, and tree-grass competition for water, which are key factors in determining savanna presence in arid and semi-arid areas. The second is a grass-fire feedback, which maintains both forest and savanna occurrences in mesic areas. Grasses constitute the majority of the fuel load, and at the same time benefit from the openness of the landscape after fires, since they recover faster than trees. Additionally, these two mechanisms are better represented when the models also include tree life stages (adults and seedlings), and distinguish between fire-prone and shade-tolerant savanna trees, and fire-resistant and shade-intolerant forest trees. Including these basic elements could improve the predictive ability of the DGVMs, not only under current climate conditions but also and especially under future scenarios.

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Author:Mara Baudena, Stefan C. Dekker, Peter M. van Bodegom, Barbara Cuesta, Steven Ian Higgins, Veiko Lehsten, Christian H. Reick, Max Rietkerk, Simon Scheiter, Zun Yin, Miguel Ángel de Zavala, Victor Brovkin
Parent Title (English):Biogeosciences discussions
Publisher:European Geosciences Union
Place of publication:Katlenburg-Lindau
Document Type:Article
Date of Publication (online):2014/06/17
Date of first Publication:2014/06/17
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2015/04/18
Page Number:40
First Page:9471
Last Page:9510
© Author(s) 2014. This work is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Institutes:Angeschlossene und kooperierende Institutionen / Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft
Fachübergreifende Einrichtungen / Biodiversität und Klima Forschungszentrum (BiK-F)
Dewey Decimal Classification:5 Naturwissenschaften und Mathematik / 55 Geowissenschaften, Geologie / 550 Geowissenschaften
Licence (German):License LogoCreative Commons - Namensnennung 3.0