Tree size and herbivory determine below-canopy grass quality and species composition in savannahs

A.C. Treydte, C.C. Grant, F. Jeltsch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Large single-standing trees are rapidly declining in savannahs, ecosystems supporting a high diversity of large herbivorous mammals. Savannah trees are important as they support both a unique flora and fauna. The herbaceous layer in particular responds to the structural and functional properties of a tree. As shrubland expands stem thickening occurs and large trees are replaced by smaller trees. Here we examine whether small trees are as effective in providing advantages for grasses growing beneath their crowns as large trees are. The role of herbivory in this positive tree-grass interaction is also investigated. We assessed soil and grass nutrient content, structural properties, and herbaceous species composition beneath trees of three size classes and under two grazing regimes in a South African savannah. We found that grass leaf content (N and P) beneath the crowns of particularly large (ca. 3. 5 m) and very large trees (ca. 9 m) was as much as 40% greater than the same grass species not growing under a tree canopy, whereas nutrient contents of grasses did not differ beneath small trees (
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3989-4002
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • kruger-national-park
  • african savannas
  • spatial heterogeneity
  • forage quality
  • vegetation
  • productivity
  • nutrients
  • impact
  • soil
  • availability

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