The global savanna biome is characterized by enormous diversity in the physiognomy and spatial structure of the vegetation. The foliage clumping index can be calculated from bidirectional reflectance distribution function (BRDF) data. It measures the response of the darkspot reflectance to increased shadow associated with clumped vegetation and is related to leaf area index. Clumping index theoretically declines with increasing woody cover until the tree canopy begins to become uniform. In this study, clumping index is calculated for Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer BRDF data for the Australian tropical savanna, the tropical savannas of South America, and the tropical savannas of east, west and southern Africa and compared with site-based measurements of tree canopy cover, and with area-based classifications of land cover. There were differences in sensitivity of clumping index between red and near-infrared reflectance channels, and between savanna systems with markedly different woody vegetation physiognomy. Clumping index was broadly related to foliage cover from historical site data in Australia and in West Africa and Kenya, but not in Southern Africa nor with detailed site-based demographic data in the cerrado of Brazil. However, clumping index decreased with proportion of woody cover in land cover datasets for east Africa, Australia and the Colombian Llanos. There was overlap in the range of clumping index values for forest, cerrado and campo land covers in Brazil. Clumping index was generally negatively correlated with percentage tree cover from the MODIS Vegetation Continuous Fields product, but regional differences in the relationship were evident. There were large differences in the frequency distributions of clumping index from savanna, woody savanna and grassland land cover classes between global ecoregions. The clumping index shows differing sensitivity to savanna woody cover for red and NIR reflectance, and requires regional calibration for application as a universal indicator. � 2011 Elsevier Inc.