Are the eucalypt and non-eucalypt components of Australian tropical savannas independent?

Michael Lawes, Brett P Murphy, Jeremy J Midgley, Jeremy Russell-Smith

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Abstract

    Eucalypts (Eucalyptus and Corymbia spp.) dominate (>60%) the tree biomass of Australia's tropical savannas but account for only a fraction (28%) of the tree diversity. Because of their considerable biomass and adaptation to environmental stressors, such as fire, the eucalypts may drive tree dynamics in these savannas, possibly to the exclusion of non-eucalypts. We evaluated whether the eucalypt and non-eucalypt components in tropical savannas are dependent so that changes in one component are matched by opposite trends in the other. Using tree inventory data from 127 savanna sites across the rainfall and fire frequency gradients, we found that eucalypt and non-eucalypt basal area and species richness had a negative relationship. This relationship was maintained across the rainfall gradient, with rainfall having a positive effect on the basal area and species richness of both components, but with a greater effect in non-eucalypts. Fire frequency negatively affected basal area, but not species richness, although basal area and species richness of eucalypts and non-eucalypts did not differ in their response to fire. Rainfall appears to set the upper bounds to woody biomass in these mesic savannas, while fire maintains woody biomass below carrying capacity and facilitates coexistence of the components. The magnitude of the component responses, particularly for non-eucalypts, is determined by rainfall, but their dependence is likely due to their differential response to both rainfall and fire, but not to competition for resources. Thus, while eucalypts dominate biomass overall, at high rainfall sites non-eucalypt basal area and diversity are highest, especially where fire frequency is low.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)229-239
    Number of pages11
    JournalOecologia
    Volume166
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2011

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