Why are forests so scarce in subtropical South America? The shaping roles of climate, fire and livestock

Rafael Bernardi de Leon, Milena Holmgren, Matías Arim, Marten Scheffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Forest cover is notoriously sparse across neotropical southeastern South America. In particular, the practically treeless landscapes of the Campos, as they are locally known, have puzzled ecologists since Darwin's time. We used remote-sensing information and spatial regression models to relate tree cover to resource availability (i.e. climate, soil fertility, soil water holding capacity), disturbances (i.e. fire occurrence, cattle grazing) and landscape features that can mediate the effects of both (i.e. topography, distance to rivers). To better understand these relationships, we conducted the analysis at different spatial scales across non-cultivated areas of southeastern South America. Overall, tree cover in southeastern South America increases with precipitation but is limited by livestock densities and fire occurrence. Forests are concentrated close to rivers, especially in the Campos region, where cattle grazing seems to prevent tree expansion into the grasslands.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)212-217
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Volume363
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Keywords

  • Campos
  • Cattle
  • Rangelands
  • Savanna
  • Tropical tree cover
  • Woody encroachment

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