Herbaceous vegetation responses to experimental fire in savannas and forests depend on biome and climate
Gold, Z. J., Pellegrini, A. F. A., Refsland, T. K., Andrioli, R. J., Bowles, M. L., Brockway, D. G., … Staver, A. C. (2023, May 10). ECOLOGY LETTERS.
Fire-vegetation feedbacks potentially maintain global savanna and forest distributions. Accordingly, vegetation in savanna and forest ecosystems should have differential responses to fire, but fire response data for herbaceous vegetation have yet to be synthesized across biomes. Here, we examined herbaceous vegetation responses to experimental fire at 30 sites spanning four continents. Across a variety of metrics, herbaceous vegetation increased in abundance where fire was applied, with larger responses to fire in wetter and in cooler and/or less seasonal systems. Compared to forests, savannas were associated with a 4.8 (±0.4) times larger difference in herbaceous vegetation abundance for burned versus unburned plots. In particular, grass cover decreased with fire exclusion in savannas, largely via decreases in C4 grass cover, whereas changes in fire frequency had a relatively weak effect on grass cover in forests. These differential responses underscore the importance of fire for maintaining the vegetation structure of savannas and forests.