Persistent Acacia savannas replace Mediterranean sclerophyllous forests in South America

P. van de Wouw, C. Echeverria, J.M. Rey-Benayas, M. Holmgren

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26 Citations (Scopus)


Mediterranean ecosystems are global hotspots of biodiversity threaten by human disturbances. Growing evidence indicates that regeneration of Mediterranean forests can be halted under certain circumstances and that successional stages can become notoriously persistent. The Mediterranean sclerophyllous forest in central Chile is been largely transformed into savannas dominated by the invasive legume tree Acacia caven as result of interacting management and ecological factors. We used multi-temporal satellite imagery to study the transition dynamics of these major vegetation types over the last four decades (1975–2008). Vegetation changes were related to indicators of resource availability (topography, water availability, solar radiance), potential propagule availability (distance to forest remnant patches) and disturbance regimes (grazing, fire occurrence and distance to roads and cities). During this study period, forests were mostly converted into Acacia savannas (46.1%). Acacia savanna was the most persistent natural vegetation type. The probability of sclerophyllous forest degradation into Acacia savanna increased on drier northern-exposed slopes, close to roads and further away from forest remnants. In contrast, forest regeneration from Acacia savanna was higher on moister southern-exposed slopes and closer to forest remnants. Acacia savannas are increasingly being converted into cultivated land on the moister locations or switching into a bare soil state in locations close to cities and further away from forest remnants. These results highlight the vulnerability of diverse sclerophyllous forests and its increasing conversion into persistent Acacia savannas in the Mediterranean region of central Chile and identify the ecological conditions for successful conservation and restoration of the native sclerophyllous forest vegetation that can be used for sensible land use planning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1100-1108
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • central chile
  • seedling establishment
  • vegetation structure
  • plant invasions
  • slope aspect
  • management
  • fire
  • conservation
  • regeneration
  • germination

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