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Posts Tagged ‘alternative states’

Scale mismatch in ecology

January 2nd, 2017 No comments

A recent paper suggested that fire-vegetation feedback processes may be unnecessary to explain tree cover patterns in tropical ecosystems and that climate-fire determinism is an alternative possibility [1]. This conclusion was based on the fact that it is possible to reproduce observed broad scale patterns in tropical regions (e.g., a trimodal frequency distribution of tree cover) using a simple model that does not explicitly incorporate fire-vegetation feedback processes. We argue that this reasoning is misleading because these two mechanisms (feedbacks vs fire-climate control) operate at different spatial and temporal scales [2]. It is not possible to evaluate the role of a process acting at fine scales (e.g., fire-vegetation feedbacks) using a model designed for reproducing regional-scale pattern; i.e., there is a mismatch between the scale of the question and the scale of the approach for addressing the question. While the distribution of forest and savannas are partially determined by climate, the most parsimonious explanation for their environmental overlaps (as alternative states) is the existence of feedback processes [3,4], as has been shown in many ecosystems, not only tropical ones [4]. Climate is unlikely to be an alternative to feedback processes; rather, climate and fire-vegetation feedbacks are complementary processes acting at different spatial and temporal scales [2].
Fig2b
Figure: Fire activity (based on remotely sensed data) for savannas and forests located in the range of environmental conditions where both occurs, for Africa and South America (Afrotropics and Neotropics, respectively). From [2,3].

References
[1] Good, P., Harper, A., Meesters, A., Robertson, E. & Betts, R. (2016) Are strong fire–vegetation feedbacks needed to explain the spatial distribution of tropical tree cover? Global Ecol. and Biogeogr. 25, 16-25.

[2] Pausas J.G. & Dantas V.L. 2017. Scale matters: Fire-vegetation feedbacks are needed to explain tropical tree cover at the local sacle. Global Ecol. and Biogeogr. [doiwiley | pdf]

[3] Dantas V.L., Hirota M., Oliveira R.S., Pausas J.G. 2016. Disturbance maintains alternative biome states. Ecology Letters 19: 12-19. [doi | wiley | pdf | suppl | blog]

[4] Pausas, J.G. 2015. Alternative fire-driven vegetation states. J. Veget. Sci. 26:4-6. [doi | pdf | suppl.] | blog]

 

Disturbance maintains alternative biome states

November 9th, 2015 No comments

It is becoming more and more evident that climate alone does not explain spatial and temporal patterns of the world vegetation, and that disturbance regimes explain an important part of the variability in vegetation and biome composition and distribution [1]. This has been suggested specially in tropical ecosystems where alternative vegetation states (e.g., forests and savannas) are possible for a given climatic conditions [2]. For instance, in dry years, surface fires may enter in forests and kill fire-sensitive trees and select for fire-resistant woody species with open crown architectures that generates well lit communities with a flammable grassy understory. Forest trees and savannas trees have a marked difference in bark thickness (thinner in the former) and thus a contrasted sensitivity to surface fires [3]. Thus, a switch to a forest state from a savanna depends on a sufficiently long fire interval or high resource availability allowing the outcompetition of shade-intolerant savanna trees and grasses (i.e. the inhibition of fires) by means of a closed canopy of forest trees. Similarly, herbivory can also exert a control on woody biomass and favour herbivory-resistant shrubs and grasses. However, empirical (field-based) evidence for alternative sates were very limited. In a recent paper [4] we used field data to show that, for a wide range of environmental conditions (in South America and Africa), fire feedbacks maintain savannas and forests as alternative biome states in both the Neotropics and the Afrotropics. In addition, wooded grasslands and savannas occurred as alternative states in the Afrotropics, depending on the relative importance of fire and herbivory feedbacks. That is, we found evidence for a disturbance-driven bistability in the Neotropics and a disturbance-driven tristability in Afrotropics (figure below).

Savanna-states

Fig. Top: Frequency distribution of basal area in afrotropical (tristability) and neotropical (bistability) ecosystems. Bottom: The discontinuous pattern of basal area along the resources gradient for both afrotropical and neotropical ecosystems (red: wooded grasslands; orange: savannas; green: forests). Note that there are regions of the gradient where two alternative vegetation types are possible; they are maintained by different disturbance regime (see [4]).

References:
[1] Pausas, J.G. 2015. Alternative fire-driven vegetation states. J. Veget. Sci. 26: 4-6. [doi | pdf | suppl.]

[2] Dantas V., Batalha MA & Pausas JG. 2013. Fire drives functional thresholds on the savanna-forest transition. Ecology 94:2454-2463. [doi | pdf | appendix]

[3] Pausas, J.G. 2015. Bark thickness and fire regime. Funct. Ecol. 29: 317-327. [doi | pdf | suppl.]

[4] Dantas V.L., Hirota M., Oliveira R.S., Pausas J.G. 2016. Disturbance maintains alternative biome states. Ecology Letters 19:12-19 [doi | wiley | pdf |supp.– New!

[5] Update (a new relevant paper): Pausas J.G. & Dantas V.L. 2017. Scale matters: Fire-vegetation feedbacks are needed to explain tropical tree cover at the local sacle. Global Ecol. Biogeogr. 26: 395–399. [doi | pdf | post ]

Alternative fire-driven vegetation states

November 1st, 2014 No comments

One of the clearest pieces of evidence for the role of fire in shaping vegetation is the occurrence of alternative vegetation types maintained by different fire regimes in a given climate. The different flammability of alternative communities generates different fire feedback processes that maintain contrasted vegetation types with clear boundaries in a given environment; and fire exclusion blurs this structure. This has been well documented in tropical landscapes (e.g., [1]) that are often mosaics of two alternative stable states – savannas and forests – with distinct structures and functions and sharp boundaries. Currently, there is an increasing evidence that alternative fire-driven vegetation states do occur in other environments, including temperate forests ([2, 3] and figure below). That is, the existence of alternative fire-driven vegetation states may be more frequent than previously thought, although human activities may favour one of the states and mask the original bistability.

modelv2

Figure: Factors determining the transition between two alternative vegetation states (fire sensitive forest and fire resilient shrubland) in a temperate landscape in Patagonia. Human factors (global warming, increased ignitions, and livestock grazing) favour transition to shrublands. From [2].

References
[1] Dantas V., Batalha MA & Pausas JG. 2013. Fire drives functional thresholds on the savanna-forest transition. Ecology 94:2454-2463.  [doi | pdf | appendix]

[2] Pausas, J.G. 2015. Alternative fire-driven vegetation states. Journal of Vegetation Science 26: 4-6 [doi | pdf | suppl.]

[3] Paritsis J., Veblen T.T. & Holz A. 2014. Positive fire feedbacks contribute to shifts from Nothofagus pumilio forests to fire-prone shrublands in Patagonia. J. Veget. Sci., 26.

 

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