Effects of nutrients and shade on tree-grass interactions in an East African savanna.

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Savanna trees have a multitude of positive and negative effects on understorey grass production. but little is known about how these effects interact. We report on a fertilization and shading experiment carried out in a Tanzanian tropical city savanna around Acacia tortilis trees. In two years of study there was no difference in grass production under tree canopies or in open grassland, Fertilization, however, indicate that trees do affect the nutrient limitation of the grass layer with an N-limited system in open grassland to a P-limited system under the trees. The NT ratios of grass gave a reliable indication of the nature of nutrient limitation, but only when assessed at the end of the wet season, Mid-wet season nutrient concentrations of grasses were higher under than outside the tree canopy, suggesting that factors other than nutrients limit grass production. A shading experiment indicated that light may be such a limiting factor during the wet season when water and nutrients are sufficiently available. However, in the dry season when water is scarce, the effect of shade on plant production became positive. We conclude that whether trees increase or decrease production of the herbaceous layer depends on how positive effects (increased soil fertility) and negative effects (shade and soil water availability) interact and that these interactions may significantly change between wet and dry seasons.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)579-588
JournalJournal of Vegetation Science
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • light-intensity
  • vegetation
  • limitation
  • growth
  • kenya
  • environments
  • productivity
  • competition
  • herbivores
  • nitrogen

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