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Concept: Savanna


In winter, foraging activity is intended to optimize food search while minimizing both thermoregulation costs and predation risk. Here we quantify the relative importance of thermoregulation and predation in foraging patch selection of woodland birds wintering in a Mediterranean montane forest. Specifically, we account for thermoregulation benefits related to temperature, and predation risk associated with both illumination of the feeding patch and distance to the nearest refuge provided by vegetation. We measured the amount of time that 38 marked individual birds belonging to five small passerine species spent foraging at artificial feeders. Feeders were located in forest patches that vary in distance to protective cover and exposure to sun radiation; temperature and illumination were registered locally by data loggers. Our results support the influence of both thermoregulation benefits and predation costs on feeding patch choice. The influence of distance to refuge (negative relationship) was nearly three times higher than that of temperature (positive relationship) in determining total foraging time spent at a patch. Light intensity had a negligible and no significant effect. This pattern was generalizable among species and individuals within species, and highlights the preponderance of latent predation risk over thermoregulation benefits on foraging decisions of birds wintering in temperate Mediterranean forests.

Concepts: Light, Sun, Bird, Forest, Woodland, Winter, Savanna


Savannas once constituted the range of many species that human encroachment has now reduced to a fraction of their former distribution. Many survive only in protected areas. Poaching reduces the savanna elephant, even where protected, likely to the detriment of savanna ecosystems. While resources go into estimating elephant populations, an ecological benchmark by which to assess counts is lacking. Knowing how many elephants there are and how many poachers kill is important, but on their own, such data lack context. We collated savanna elephant count data from 73 protected areas across the continent estimated to hold ~50% of Africa’s elephants and extracted densities from 18 broadly stable population time series. We modeled these densities using primary productivity, water availability, and an index of poaching as predictors. We then used the model to predict stable densities given current conditions and poaching for all 73 populations. Next, to generate ecological benchmarks, we predicted such densities for a scenario of zero poaching. Where historical data are available, they corroborate or exceed benchmarks. According to recent counts, collectively, the 73 savanna elephant populations are at 75% of the size predicted based on current conditions and poaching levels. However, populations are at <25% of ecological benchmarks given a scenario of zero poaching (~967,000)-a total deficit of ~730,000 elephants. Populations in 30% of the 73 protected areas were <5% of their benchmarks, and the median current density as a percentage of ecological benchmark across protected areas was just 13%. The ecological context provided by these benchmark values, in conjunction with ongoing census projects, allow efficient targeting of conservation efforts.

Concepts: Density, Prediction, Ecosystem, Population density, Hunting, Elephant, Elephants, Savanna


Increased nitrogen (N) deposition is common worldwide. Questions of where, how, and if reactive N-input influences soil carbon © sequestration in terrestrial ecosystems are of great concern. To explore the potential for soil C sequestration in steppe region under N and phosphorus (P) addition, we conducted a field experiment between 2006 and 2012 in the temperate grasslands of northern China. The experiment examined 6 levels of N (0-56 g N m(-2) yr(-1)), 6 levels of P (0-12.4 g P m(-2) yr(-1)), and a control scenario. Our results showed that addition of both N and P enhanced soil total C storage in grasslands due to significant increases of C input from litter and roots. Compared with control plots, soil organic carbon (SOC) in the 0-100 cm soil layer varied quadratically, from 156.8 to 1352.9 g C m(-2) with N addition gradient (R(2) = 0.99, P < 0.001); and logarithmically, from 293.6 to 788.6 g C m(-2) with P addition gradient (R(2) = 0.56, P = 0.087). Soil inorganic carbon (SIC) decreased quadratically with N addition. The net C sequestration on grassland (including plant, roots, SIC, and SOC) increased linearly from -128.6 to 729.0 g C m(-2) under N addition (R(2) = 0.72, P = 0.023); and increased logarithmically, from 248.5 to 698 g C m(-2)under P addition (R(2) = 0.82, P = 0.014). Our study implies that N addition has complex effects on soil carbon dynamics, and future studies of soil C sequestration on grasslands should include evaluations of both SOC and SIC under various scenarios.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Soil, Carbon, Geology, Grassland, Steppe, Savanna, Temperate grasslands, savannas, and shrublands


Human evolutionary scholars have long supposed that the earliest stone tools were made by the genus Homo and that this technological development was directly linked to climate change and the spread of savannah grasslands. New fieldwork in West Turkana, Kenya, has identified evidence of much earlier hominin technological behaviour. We report the discovery of Lomekwi 3, a 3.3-million-year-old archaeological site where in situ stone artefacts occur in spatiotemporal association with Pliocene hominin fossils in a wooded palaeoenvironment. The Lomekwi 3 knappers, with a developing understanding of stone’s fracture properties, combined core reduction with battering activities. Given the implications of the Lomekwi 3 assemblage for models aiming to converge environmental change, hominin evolution and technological origins, we propose for it the name ‘Lomekwian’, which predates the Oldowan by 700,000 years and marks a new beginning to the known archaeological record.

Concepts: Human, Evolution, Human evolution, Archaeology, Homo ergaster, Savanna, Stone tool, Archaeological site


Tropical savannas have been increasingly viewed as an opportunity for carbon sequestration through fire suppression and afforestation, but insufficient attention has been given to the consequences for biodiversity. To evaluate the biodiversity costs of increasing carbon sequestration, we quantified changes in ecosystem carbon stocks and the associated changes in communities of plants and ants resulting from fire suppression in savannas of the Brazilian Cerrado, a global biodiversity hotspot. Fire suppression resulted in increased carbon stocks of 1.2 Mg ha(-1) year(-1) since 1986 but was associated with acute species loss. In sites fully encroached by forest, plant species richness declined by 27%, and ant richness declined by 35%. Richness of savanna specialists, the species most at risk of local extinction due to forest encroachment, declined by 67% for plants and 86% for ants. This loss highlights the important role of fire in maintaining biodiversity in tropical savannas, a role that is not reflected in current policies of fire suppression throughout the Brazilian Cerrado. In tropical grasslands and savannas throughout the tropics, carbon mitigation programs that promote forest cover cannot be assumed to provide net benefits for conservation.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Evolution, Plant, Grassland, Extinction, Biome, Savanna, Tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas, and shrublands


Plant diversity loss impairs ecosystem functioning, including important effects on soil. Most studies that have explored plant diversity effects belowground, however, have largely focused on biological processes. As such, our understanding of how plant diversity impacts the soil physical environment remains limited, despite the fundamental role soil physical structure plays in ensuring soil function and ecosystem service provision. Here, in both a glasshouse and a long-term field study, we show that high plant diversity in grassland systems increases soil aggregate stability, a vital structural property of soil, and that root traits play a major role in determining diversity effects. We also reveal that the presence of particular plant species within mixed communities affects an even wider range of soil physical processes, including hydrology and soil strength regimes. Our results indicate that alongside well-documented effects on ecosystem functioning, plant diversity and root traits also benefit essential soil physical properties.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Life, Plant, Ecology, Natural environment, Soil, Ecosystem, Savanna


Fire is a fundamental process in savannas and is widely used for management. Pyrodiversity, variation in local fire characteristics, has been proposed as a driver of biodiversity although empirical evidence is equivocal. Using a new measure of pyrodiversity (Hempson et al.), we undertook the first continent-wide assessment of how pyrodiversity affects biodiversity in protected areas across African savannas. The influence of pyrodiversity on bird and mammal species richness varied with rainfall: strongest support for a positive effect occurred in wet savannas (> 650 mm/year), where species richness increased by 27% for mammals and 40% for birds in the most pyrodiverse regions. Range-restricted birds were most increased by pyrodiversity, suggesting the diversity of fire regimes increases the availability of rare niches. Our findings are significant because they explain the conflicting results found in previous studies of savannas. We argue that managing savanna landscapes to increase pyrodiversity is especially important in wet savannas.

Concepts: Conservation biology, Evolution, Species, Reptile, Mammal, Paleontology, Dinosaur, Savanna


Global soil carbon © stocks account for approximately three times that found in the atmosphere. In the Aso mountain region of southern Japan, semi-natural grasslands have been maintained by annual harvests and/or burning for more than 1,000 years. Quantification of soil C stocks and C sequestration rates in Aso mountain ecosystem is needed to make well-informed, land-use decisions to maximize C sinks while minimizing C emissions. Soil cores were collected from six sites within 200 km(2) (767-937 m asl.) from the surface down to the k-Ah layer established 7,300 years ago by a volcanic eruption. The biological sources of the C stored in the Aso mountain ecosystem was investigated by combining C content at a number of sampling depths with age (using (14) C dating) and δ(13) C isotopic fractionation. Quantification of plant phytoliths at several depths was used to make basic reconstructions of past vegetation and was linked with C-sequestration rates. The mean total C stock of all six sites was 232 Mg C ha(-1) (28-417 Mg C ha(-1) ), which equates to a soil C sequestration rate of 32 kg C ha(-1) yr(-1) over 7,300 years. Mean soil C sequestration rates over 34, 50 and 100 years were estimated by an equation regressing soil C sequestration rate against soil C accumulation interval, which was modeled to be 618, 483 and 332 kg C ha(-1) yr(-1) , respectively. Such data allows for a deeper understanding in how much C could be sequestered in Miscanthus grasslands at different time scales. In Aso, tribe Andropogoneae (especially Miscanthus and Schizoachyrium genera) and tribe Paniceae contributed between 64 and 100% of soil C based on δ(13) C abundance. We conclude that the semi-natural, C4 -dominated grassland system serves as an important C sink, and worthy of future conservation. © 2013 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Soil, Carbon, Poaceae, Vegetation, Wiley-Blackwell, Volcano, Savanna


Short-scale interactions yield large-scale vegetation patterns that, in turn, shape ecosystem function across landscapes. Fairy circles, which are circular patches bare of vegetation within otherwise continuous landscapes, are characteristic features of semiarid grasslands. We report the occurrence of submarine fairy circle seascapes in seagrass meadows and propose a simple model that reproduces the diversity of seascapes observed in these ecosystems as emerging from plant interactions within the meadow. These seascapes include two extreme cases, a continuous meadow and a bare landscape, along with intermediate states that range from the occurrence of persistent but isolated fairy circles, or solitons, to seascapes with multiple fairy circles, banded vegetation, and “leopard skin” patterns consisting of bare seascapes dotted with plant patches. The model predicts that these intermediate seascapes extending across kilometers emerge as a consequence of local demographic imbalances along with facilitative and competitive interactions among the plants with a characteristic spatial scale of 20 to 30 m, consistent with known drivers of seagrass performance. The model, which can be extended to clonal growth plants in other landscapes showing fairy rings, reveals that the different seascapes observed hold diagnostic power as to the proximity of seagrass meadows to extinction points that can be used to identify ecosystems at risks.

Concepts: Ecosystem, Emergence, Grassland, Landscape ecology, Biome, Savanna, Fairies, Fairy ring


Modeling efforts focused on future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from energy and other sectors in California have shown varying capacities to meet the emissions reduction targets established by the state. These efforts have not included potential reductions from changes in ecosystem management, restoration, and conservation. We examine the scale of contributions from selected activities in natural and agricultural lands and assess the degree to which these actions could help the state achieve its 2030 and 2050 climate mitigation goals under alternative implementation scenarios. By 2030, an Ambitious implementation scenario could contribute as much as 147 MMTCO2e or 17.4% of the cumulative reductions needed to meet the state’s 2030 goal, greater than the individual projected contributions of four other economic sectors, including those from the industrial and agricultural sectors. On an annual basis, the Ambitious scenario could result in reductions as high as 17.9 MMTCO2e⋅y(-1) or 13.4% of the state’s 2030 reduction goal. Most reductions come from changes in forest management (61% of 2050 projected cumulative reductions under the Ambitious scenario), followed by reforestation (14%), avoided conversion (11%), compost amendments to grasslands (9%), and wetland and grassland restoration (5%). Implementation of a range of land-based emissions reduction activities can materially contribute to one of the most ambitious mitigation targets globally. This study provides a flexible, dynamic framework for estimating the reductions achievable through land conservation, ecological restoration, and changes in management regimes.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Ecology, Management, Forestry, Greenhouse gas, Goal, Savanna