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Alternative Biome States in Brazil

October 31st, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

I have recently been in Minas Gerais, Brazil (in the Cerrado region). I visited different biomes (forests, savannas, grasslands) occurring in the same climate, i.e., Alternative Biome States [1,2]. The sharp boundaries that separate the different biomes (photos blow) suggesting the existence of strong feedbacks [3]. Savannas and grasslands are maintained by frequent fires (flammable or pyrophilic communities) in climates where dense forest can occur; frequent fires maintain those open ecosystems dominated by light-demanding grasses, and woody plants with traits for fire survival (thick corky bark [4], epicormic resprouting [5], belowground organs [6]). In contrast, forest rarely get burn (non-flammable or pyrofobic communities), as the low light inhibit grasses and generate microclimatic conditions that are not favorable for fire (no grasses, high humidity, low wind, etc.) but favorable for shade-tolerant forest trees.

Forest-grassland mosaic in Serra da Canastra, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Forest-grassland mosaic in Serra da Canastra, Minas Gerais, Brazil
Savanna dominated by Vochysia thyrsoidea (Vochysiaceae; the large tree), in Serra da Canastra, Minas Gerais, Brazil. Brazilian savannas are often termed “cerrado”.


[1] Pausas JG & Bond WJ. 2020. Alternative biome states in terrestrial ecosystems. Trends Pl Sci 25: 250-263. [doi | sciencedirect | cell | pdf]

[2] Dantas VL, Hirota M, Oliveira RS, Pausas JG. 2016. Disturbance maintains alternative biome states. Ecol Lett 19: 12-19. [doi | wiley | pdf | supp.]

[3] Pausas JG & Bond WJ. 2022. Feedbacks in ecology and evolution. Trends Ecol Evol 37: 637-644. [doi | sciencedirect | pdf]

[4] Pausas JG. 2017. Bark thickness and fire regime: another twist. New Phytol 213: 13-15. [doi | wiley | pdf]

[5] Pausas JG & Keeley JE. 2017. Epicormic resprouting in fire-prone ecosystems. Trends Pl Sci 22: 1008-1015. [doi | sciencedirect | pdf

[6] Pausas JG, Lamont BB, Paula S, Appezzato-da-Glória B & Fidelis A. 2018. Unearthing belowground bud banks in fire-prone ecosystems. New Phytol 217: 1435–1448. [doi | pdf | suppl. | BBB database]

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